This post is the first in a series to guide you in starting a program  if you are new to exercise or to progress your current routine, whether your goal is to prevent cancer or avoid the pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle.

Yes, YOU!  Over there in the comfy recliner!

I hate to start with “Studies show…,” but studies do show that regular physical activity, along with a healthy diet, can lower risks of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, especially colon, breast and endometrial.

“Define physical activity,” you say.

Physical activity is any movement that increases heart rate above resting, including things like housework, gardening, walking at a slow to moderate pace, and leisure activities like biking, swimming and hiking, among others.

In other words, you don’t have to run marathons or train for power lifting…  unless you want to.

Recently updated Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state simply that adults should “move more and sit less.”  adding that some movement is better than none.

Previously, it was recommended that activity occur in bouts of not less than 10 minutes each, totaling 150 – 300 minutes per week of moderately intense activity or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorously intense activity.  Or a combination of both.

Moderately intense activities include things like brisk walking or fast dancing.

The new guidelines reinforce this, but also state that any activity, regardless of time duration, counts towards your weekly total.  Basically, just move around!  I know some of you may be very restricted in your pain free movements.  Just move the parts you can, as often as you can.

So shake that booty!  Dance around the kitchen!  Vacuum your floors!  Vacuum my floors!  (Hey, I had to try!)

In addition to cardiovascular exercise, it is also recommended that adults strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week.  Things like push ups and body weight squats are examples of strength training exercises that don’t require any equipment, at least to start.

Stretching all muscles and tendons should be performed on days that other exercise is done.

You may be surprised to know that the guidelines are the same for cancer patients as they are for the general population.  If, however, a cancer survivor is unable to meet these requirements because of their health status, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that they “should be as active as their abilities and conditions allow,” and overall, “avoid inactivity.” (ACSM’s Guide to Exercise and Cancer Survivorship, 2012)

Becoming or remaining physically active during and after cancer treatments has been shown to decrease risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancer recurrence by as much as 40 to 50 percent and can lower risk of dying from the disease by 39 to 45 percent. (

Studies confirm similar benefits to survivors of colorectal and non-metastatic prostate cancers.

Exercise can prevent weight gain that often occurs with inactivity brought on by cancer treatments and  can prevent decrease in cardiovascular function, as well as generally improve quality of life.

So just how does exercise affect development of cancer in the first place?

Below is a brief summary, but you can find more here.

  • Exercise lowers levels of certain hormones, like estrogen and insulin, and of certain growth factors that contribute to development or progression of cancers like those of the breast and colon.
  • By helping to prevent or reverse obesity, it decreases its harmful effects on the body, such as insulin resistance. (failure of cells to respond to insulin)
  • Exercise reduces inflammation in the body.
  • Improves immune system function.
  • Decreases exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to harmful bile acids by altering their metabolism, which may help prevent colon cancer.
  • Speeds up the rate at which food travels through the digestive system, decreasing exposure to possible carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract

While one out every two people will be touched by cancer in their lifetimes, you may not be all that concerned.  If that’s the case, consider how a sound exercise program can affect your health in general:

  • Lower risk of all-cause mortality
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke)
  • Lower risk of high blood pressure
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of high cholesterol
  • Lower risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach
  • Improved brain function
  • Reduced risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Improved sleep
  • Slowed or reduced weight gain
  • Weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
  • Prevention of weight regain following initial weight loss
  • Improved bone health
  • Improved physical function
  • Lower risk of falls in older adults
  • Lower risk of fall-related injuries in older adults

Wow!  No wonder more physicians are prescribing exercise as medicine!  If I could pack all that into a pill, I’d be a gazillionaire!!

You may be thinking, “Well, Cindy, you exercise.  You’re a trainer.  You got cancer anyway. Why should I bother?  All that takes time and I have stuff to do.”

You are absolutely right.  I had cancer, chemo and bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed.)

With approval of my medical team, I continued to exercise as intensely as possible.

My heart stayed strong, my weight stayed the same and I recovered from surgery quickly.  The plan now is to stay cancer free.

I have stuff to do.

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