Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.
Read Chapter Eight: Empowering the Body
Watch the Video: Join us for Healing and Cancer – The Nature of Healing breast cancer retreat documentary.
Empowering the Body
This chapter, written over five years ago, has held up incredibly well to the burgeoning of scientific health promotion. I would only add the following updates:
- The advice offered also applies to people suffering from chemo brain – or any other condition which compromises our ability to think clearly. For instance, exercising is the best way to improve memory. We release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor after moderate exercise which promotes our brain ability to set down new memories.
- I would add on a whole section about sleep hygiene: the habits we can use to promote a better night’s sleep. For instance, even 90 seconds of bright light in the middle of the night can suppress melatonin and other healthy hormones produced during a good night’s sleep. I suggest people wear eye patches at night (and keep the lights off if you need to get up to go to the bathroom).
- Remarkably, science shows that taking a short daytime nap improves the quality of sleep at night. Napping also increases memory and learning post-nap ie in the latter part of the day and evening. Learning how to nap is another skill which you can learn from the experts.
- The 5-2-1-0 strategy for maintaining a reasonable weight includes:
- Fill up on your veggies (FIVE servings per day) early in each meal before eating calorie dense foods.
- Restrict your sitting screen time to TWO hours per day. Impossible for most of us – but it reminds us to limit our sitting time outside of ‘work’. Use a standing station for your essential computer time at home is a practical way to reduce sitting time.
- ONE hour of exercise per day.
- ZERO calories from sugary fluids like fruit juices or soda pop.
One of the biggest challenges people affected by cancer face in empowering their body is the tendency to relapse to their lifestyle choices prior to their diagnosis. It seems that fear is a major motivator in the first few months with cancer, but as the years go by, fears typically subside, and a person can lose their drive to take care of themselves. I’ve tried to reframe the experience of choosing healthy options as something that comes naturally when you begin to appreciate your life as sacred. When you realize that your body is the vehicle that allows you to extend your love and spirit into the world, then you no longer need to feel like you’re denying yourself. Instead the healthy choice will come from a place of love and appreciation for your wonder-full body.
More recently, I heard Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and professional speaker, talk about what motivates him to take care of himself. His granddaughter has a rare genetic condition which has taken her in and out of hospital most of her life. Dr. Amen wants to remain healthy for as many years as possible so he can be an advocate for his granddaughter’s medical care, and support his entire family with his medical knowledge and insight. Whenever he’s tempted by an unhealthy habit (like eating a sugary or fatty snack) he brings to mind the image of his beautiful granddaughter , and the temptation quickly fades away.
Finding purpose and meaning in our life is the greatest motivator to health and happiness. Finding balance in our busy schedules, understanding what makes our precious bodies function optimally, and adopting the attitude that self-care comes first is the foundation to fully expressing your love and compassion in the world.
Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad.
Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.
In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.