Don’t take cancer sitting down

Spring 2013 Living Well Magazine

By Anna-Louise Bouvier

While genetics play a huge role in the development and recurrence of cancer, lifestyle factors such as whether you smoke, how much you weigh, what you eat and how much you move are also vitally influential.

Research is showing strong links between sedentary lifestyle and increased risk of developing cancer (1) particularly breast and colon cancer. Further research is now exploring the role of exercise in stopping recurrence and slowing progression. (2, 3)

The question is, what are we doing with the knowledge? 

How can we make some small steps to add more movement into our lives and use exercise to help us get well and stay well?

Sell it to yourself 

It’s hard to imagine, but to gain more energy you need to use a bit more energy. In a very short time your body and mind will start to gain strength and motivating yourself to move will become easier.

Ask yourself these questions. Would you like to…

  • feel less tired
  • sleep better
  • feel a bit brighter in your mood
  • feel a bit stronger in your body
  • cope with stress a little better

If the answer to any of these things is yes, being less sedentary will improve all these things. It will not only help you when you are unwell, but will build resilience in your mind and body to keep you well. *Write these goals on sticky notes and post them on your fridge or your bathroom mirror to keep reminding yourself about what you want to feel, and why you need to keep at it.

What do you need to do? 

For a long time research showed us that we need to move more. Now the research is showing that sitting less is almost as important. So here are three simple steps to combating sedentary lifestyle.

Step 1 

Off your bottom and on your feet 

This is called incidental exercise and it is a critical part of keeping your metabolism strong. Start thinking about all the times you sit to do things, like speaking on the phone, reading the newspaper, or working on the computer. Try standing up to talk on the phone, and set up a standing workstation where you can work on laptops or read the paper. Even housework and gardening have been shown to help build physical resilience. Just try and do little things often.

Step 2 

Buy a pedometer 

This is a small, simple, cheap gadget you can buy from any chemist or sports store. You clip it onto your belt or pants and it measures the number of steps you do in a day. The ideal target is 10,000 steps per day. However if you are in a treatment phase or you are particularly unwell, just try and use it to help you add a few more steps every day, building your energy and your strength for life.

Step 3 

Add a little huff and puff 

The value of this type of exercise is that it is really good for releasing those feel good chemicals in your brain that lift mood. It has also been shown to make your brain more resilient to emotional stress.

The recommended amount of moderate to vigorous exercise (that’s movement that makes you puff) is 30 minutes every day, but when you are starting from a low base, you might begin with walking for 10 minutes. Just add a little more challenge when you go for a walk. Increase the pace, add a small flight of stairs or a hill.

This type of exercise also helps you sleep better at night as your body is more physically tired. Walking outdoors (especially close to water) has also been found to be even better for lifting mood.

Step 4 

Don’t look up the mountain 

Remember getting moving need not be another mountain for you to climb. Just think about making small changes, adding a few extra steps, moving a little bit faster and a little bit longer each day. The benefits will be worth it.

1. Meyerhardt JA, et al J Clin Oncol. 2006 Aug 1;24(22):3527-34. Epub 2006 Jul 5. Physical activity and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis.

2. Haydon AM, et al Gut. 2006 Jan;55(1):62-7. Epub 2005 Jun 21. Effect of physical activity and body size on survival after diagnosis with colorectal cancer.

3.   Kuiper JG, et al Cancer Causes Control. 2012 Dec;23(12):1939-48. doi: 10.1007/s10552-012- 0071-2. Epub 2012 Oct 2. Recreational physical activity, body mass index, and survival in women with colorectal cancer.

Anna-Louise Bouvier
BachAppSc (phty) 

Physiotherapist and mind-body expert Anna-Louise Bouvier is the director of Physiocise, and an author and media commentator. Hear more from Anna-Louise on happy bodies, happy minds at our Profound Healing – Sustainable Wellbeing Conference in November.