by Lisa Bélanger, PhD, CEP-CSEP
Over the past five years I have been in a lab working on developing a drug for cancer patients and survivors. This drug has already demonstrated convincing evidence in preventing numerous types of cancer including breast and colon and indirect risk reduction to endometrial, lung, and prostate cancers. During treatment, this drug demonstrated to increase chemotherapy completion rates allowing more patients to receive their required chemotherapy dosage. When administered after chemotherapy, it is showing promise to decrease the chances of recurrence in colon cancer survivors by over fifty percent. We are now investigating this in a phase three randomized control trial.
The side effects of this treatment include an increased quality of life, reduced cancer related fatigue, anxiety and depression. Patients will also possibly experience a reduced blood pressure, improved cardiovascular system and improved body composition.
I first discovered this drug by accident in my last year of high school when my best friend Jane was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Feeling powerless, I looked for and tried anything I thought could help her cope and manage the disease. I was shocked and excited with the results. After the treatment she was more energized, sleeping better, and seemed to have improved mood.
This ground-breaking medication: Exercise
This was the beginning of a speech I did at a medical conference. In general, we talk about exercise to prevent disease or to look better. We rarely discuss it as medicine. This medicine becomes even more important after a cancer diagnosis.
The proper dose? The guideline is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for health benefits. What is moderate exercise? Well, you should be able to hold a conversation but if you can sing, you need to work a bit harder. Activities such as a brisk walk (walking like you are late for a meeting), skiing, and many sports are considered moderate activity. Vigorous exercise such as hockey, basketball, and running are also encouraged.
Only about half young adult cancer survivors are achieving the recommended amount of exercise. The most common reason that young adult cancer survivors (and young adults in general) say they don’t get enough exercise is lack of time. How to fit exercise into your busy schedule?
The 150 minutes of moderate physical activity can be added up throughout the week in 10 minute bouts. Where can you squeeze 10 minutes of exercise into your day?
Walking or biking commute.
Why not walk to the store, work, or meet up with friends? This will add to your total activity, help reduce fuel costs and help the environment. Can’t walk the whole way? Get off the bus a stop early.
Lunch time class or workout.
Many gyms and yoga studios offer 50 minute classes at lunch that can allow you to sweat mid day, increasing your energy and productivity for the rest of the day. Look into what is offered around your work. If you cannot commit to the full 50 minutes go for a brisk walk with colleagues or climb some nearby stairs.
Wake up earlier.
I know, not always a tempting option. If you wake up just half an hour earlier and get your workout in before you start your day you will be energized and not have to struggle about where else to fit it in. Research has indicated people with morning workout routines are more likely to keep up exercise and stay on track.
Time with friends and family.
You don’t want to miss out spending time with friends and family to get in your exercise. Why not combine efforts, and suggest going for a walk instead of a coffee meeting or family outing to the park instead of the movies.
While watching TV.
Either at the gym or in your own home try exercising while watching your favorite TV program. On average Canadian’s watch 4 hours of TV a day (AH!!!) This is a great time to fit in your exercise while not falling behind on your favorite TV show or sports game.
Keep Fit and Have Fun! (Hal and Joanne were right!)
According to research the most important variable to starting and maintaining an exercise program is enjoyment. Makes sense – if it’s fun you will keep doing it. Find an activity you enjoy OR something you enjoy about activity. For example, you may not enjoy jogging but if you add beautiful surroundings, music or running with a friend it may be much more enjoyable then on a treadmill. Ask yourself if you prefer a social environment (try CrossFit, a class, or recreational sports), being outside (skiing, skating, hiking, kayaking) or competition (sports training online communities).
Do some digging in your community. There are lots of low cost, unique exercise experiences. For example, many communities will rent out snowshoes, or bikes. There are co-ops to rent kayaks or canoes. There are walking and running clubs to keep you on track and many family specific activities.
Exercise is the most underperscribed medicine in the world. It is a low investment for a large return. Think about how you can fit exercise into your life and live every day to the fullest!