Integrative Medicine: Exercise helps survival rate of cancer patients

Published: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3D
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 7:58 am

Do you need a little help in getting yourself up off the couch to exercise? We all know that exercise can help reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

Staying fit can also reduce your risk of cancer, and if you are a cancer survivor, exercise can increase your likelihood of surviving.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers looked at the impact of physical activity on survival in a group of over 2,000 adults who had been diagnosed with invasive but non-metastatic colon cancer. Patients completed questionnaires to assess lifestyle information at baseline, and then they were followed for up to 16 years.

Compared to the couch potatoes, patients who engaged in 8.75 or more METS (metabolic equivalents) of exercise per week, equal to approximately 150 minutes of brisk walking, reduced their mortality by a whopping 42 percent. And as expected, sitting was found to be deadly – people who sat more than six hours per day compared with those who sat for fewer than three hours per day had an almost 30 percent increase in mortality.

The benefits of exercise also apply to breast cancer. In a 2008 study, researchers found that women who increased their physical activity to at least 9.0 METS per week after a diagnosis of local or regional breast cancer reduced their risk of death by 45 percent. In contrast, women who decreased their physical activity after diagnosis had a fourfold greater risk of death.

Why does exercise improve survival from cancer? One theory is that it reduces stress and inflammation, both of which are known to drive cancer cell growth.

Many doctors, including oncologists, don't talk to their patients about exercise. This is unfortunate, because along with increasing your chances of survival, exercise helps reduce the side effects from the cancer itself, as well as side effects from cancer treatment. Exercise can reduce fatigue, anxiety and pain, and it can also increase endurance, improve your emotional well-being and sexual function, and reduce insomnia.

So lace up your tennies, grab your dog, get outside into this beautiful spring air, and start moving. And if you are a pet-free household, consider this: Dog owners tend to get more exercise, and owning a dog may improve other health parameters as well. See you on the trail!

Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program. Have a question related to alternative medicine? Email fitness@sacbee.com.

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