Sweat the Small Stuff – Exercise Oncology

Sweat the Small Stuff – Exercise Oncology

Winter 2018, Living Well Magazine

by Paul Bedson

Moderate exercise is one of the 7 Essential Elements in the Gawler Cancer Foundation’s wholistic approach to cancer treatment. 

A large body of current research literature is now supporting this particular essential element.

Welcome to a new paradigm of thinking in the management of cancer: exercise oncology or exercise medicine.

Traditionally, cancer patients were encouraged to get plenty of rest and to conserve whatever precious energy they have for fighting cancer and recovering from the impact of treatments. But current research is revealing that the old maxim “If you don’t use it, you lose it!” applies to cancer patients too. It’s very exciting to note that much of this pioneering research into exercise oncology is coming from Australia:-

  • Edith Cowan University, W.A. – Exercise Medicine Research Institute (www.ecu.edu.au)
  • Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research (www.acu.edu.au)
  • University of Melbourne School of Health Sciences (healthsciences.unimelb.edu.au)
  • ESSA – Exercise & Sports Science Australia
  • ACSEP – Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians

On the ABC Catalyst program of 10th May 2016, Professor Robert Newton (Director of Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Perth W.A.) stated: “We now have a growing number of research studies showing that if people hit a certain level of physical activity – which is relatively modest to be honest, then they more than double their chances of surviving cancer… it actually increases their survival and has no side effects.”

So what is that recommended level of physical activity?

Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week. This may include walking, jogging, swimming, exercise bike, stepping machine, cross-training machine etc.

What is moderate intensity?

You would be exercising at a moderate intensity if you could carry on a conversation whilst exercising (no, not swimming!) but may need to pause for a breath from time to time.

If this exercise intensity is too much, then you could consider exercises like Qigong, Yoga or Pilates, which have their own benefits (flexibility, core strength and balance). Remember that some exercise is better than none at all. You may also include some strength training exercises at least two days per week for additional benefits.

And what are the benefits of exercise for cancer patients?

The research is finding a remarkable range of benefits, including:-

  • enhances the efficacy of cancer treatments
  • minimizes the side effects of cancer treatments (such as loss of muscle mass, loss of bone density, nausea)
  • directly helps you fight cancer by activating natural killer cells which detect and breakdown cancer cells
  • reduces insulin resistance and creates a low sugar environment which discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells
  • reduces inflammation
  • prevents or alleviates depression and fatigue
  • improves mobility and balance, lowers the risk of falls and broken bones
  • prevents muscle wastage
  • improves circulation, strengthens muscles and bones
  • can prevent a recurrence of cancer
  • This rapidly growing field of research, and body of evidence, is showing that physical activity improves cancer survival somewhere in the range of 35% to 60%. This is certainly good news for cancer patients as well as for cancer prevention.

Physical activity is just one of The Gawler Cancer Foundation’s 7 Essential Elements of Lifestyle Medicine; and it alone can improve cancer prognosis by 35%-60%. The wholistic approach to treating cancer, including good nutrition, meditation and relaxation, exercise, emotional support and healing, the power of the mind, and purpose and meaning/spirituality, provide powerful, evidence-based, safe resources for outsmarting cancer.

When you intend to commence an exercise program, there are some precautions for certain types of cancers and for certain patients. It is best to consult with your oncologist if they have knowledge of the benefits of exercise oncology, or a trained exercise physiologist (see www.essa.org.au Exercise and Sports Science Australia).

The Cancer Council of Australia has produced a very useful booklet Exercise for People Living with Cancer, which is free to download online www.cancer.org.au.

This booklet shows specific exercises for: aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility exercises and pelvic floor exercises.

Paul Bedson
Senior Therapist,
The Gawler Cancer Foundation & Yarra Valley Living Centre
BA, BCouns, BAcup

Paul has been working in the field of mind/body medicine for over 30 years as a counsellor, psychotherapist, meditation instructor and natural therapist. His particular interest is in helping people deal with the range of emotional issues associated with their healing journey. Paul also works with grief and anxiety issues and relationship problems. He teaches mindfulness-based styles of meditation which develop wisdom and compassion through awareness of body, emotion, mind and spirit as one integrated Self. Paul co-authored the book Meditation an In-Depth Guide with Ian Gawler.