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Why Cancer Prevention Using Exercise & Lifestyle Changes Is More Important Than Ever

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 12 October 2020
Hits: 3286

Over the past 30-40 years we have come to accept that cancer is something that many of us will have to face at some point in our life. Either we will be affected by this disease personally or know someone close to us that will. Even with all the modern technology and the millions of dollars in research being thrown at finding ways to cure this disease, we are really no closer now than we were 40 years ago. We have been convinced that cancer is simply part of the process of aging and genetics and there is nothing we can do about it. However, deep down we all know that our modern lifestyle is really the culprit, and it is our poor choices with smoking, alcohol, eating a poor diet, and lack of movement that is the reason so many of us develop this deadly disease. In this article I want to share with you some of the simple things you can do right now to give your body every chance of never acquiring this disease.

Most of us would know that you can lower your risk of cancer by improving your health from eating well and exercising. And there are endless amount of studies with information proving that smoking, being overweight, physically inactive, and not eating well increases your risk of developing cancer. Despite all of this information there is still this reluctance from the community that anything can be done to prevent it from happening to them and that we must find a cure.

Doing little or no physical activity is associated with a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer. Physical inactivity is responsible for 14% of colon cancers and 11% of post-menopausal breast cancers - and contribute too many other cancers. Being inactive also contributes to weight gain and being overweight or obese greatly increases your cancer risk.

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.
  • Around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use.

Yet there is still a feeling among the community that cancer is due to genetics, or the inevitable price we have to pay for living longer as modern living has enabled us to increase our life expectancy. Yet, age is clearly NOT the only factor, as the incidence of some cancers has risen in ALL age groups. And genetics play a much less significant role than we have been led to believe.

In the book "An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure" by Richard Believe & Denis Gingras they compiled research to explore this question. They found that the cancer risk of children adopted early in their life whose adopted parent dies of cancer before age 50 had a whopping 500% increase in cancer risk than if they stayed with their biological parent. This showed that the children inherited the cancer genes from lifestyle factors and not genetic factors.

Our modern way of life is conducive to the development of cancer, a bad diet with too much sugar and processed foods, being overweight, and a sedentary lifestyle creating the perfect breeding ground for precancerous cells to go rampant. These destructive modern lifestyle habits create inflammation, and this increases the production of nitrogen and oxygen free radicals that damage DNA and destabilize its structure.

Cancer is lies dormant in our DNA and has little chance of affecting us unless it is provided with the tools to do damage. And this brings us to the paradoxical approach we have to do this disease. We spend billions of dollars looking for a cure and finding many ways to get rid of the disease after we have acquired it instead of changing the factors that are providing the environment for it to thrive in the first place. We forget that at the turn of the 20th century cancer was a relatively unknown disease.

If you were to compare the prevalence of cancer in 1900 versus today you would find it was a disease that was rarely mentioned. In 1900 cancer only represented 6% of total deaths compared to 32% in 2010! This is quite an alarming trend and it is not hard to link this to the evolution of the industrialized world that has introduced smoking, sugar, with less movement. You can easily reference these statistics and more from the Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.

The good news is you can lower your cancer risk by eliminating destructive habits like smoking and drinking excessive alcohol, eating healthy food, and lastly being physically active. Physical activity is arguably the most powerful factor if you get it right as it regulates hormones such as insulin-like growth factor and oestrogen and affects the speed that food passes through the bowel, reducing contact with any potential carcinogens.

The beauty of exercise is that as much as it can decrease the risk of developing cancer it has the added bonus of improving cardiovascular fitness, maintaining bone mineral density and reducing stress. Most medical drugs have negative health side effects but exercise is the total opposite, and provides numerous positive side effects. Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy body weight and can dramatically improve energy levels and overall mental health.

But how does exercise relate specifically to cancer? Does it matter what type of exercise you do? And how much exercise is enough? And if you get cancer is exercise still advised?

We will look at all these questions and more.

Cancer Thrives on an Inactive Body

Cancer thrives on our lack of activity. For without the activity from exercise the body is unable to complete many of the functions needed to sustain optimal health with our essential organs. When we exercise the effect on the heart creates a series of changes to the system that increase oxygen absorption and energy production, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, resulting in less inflammation and significant efficiency of the body as a whole.

Physical activity also improves circulation, driving more oxygen into your tissues, and circulating immune cells in your blood. By improving blood flow to your liver, it also helps your body detoxify potentially harmful substances, including excess estrogen that may spur estrogen-sensitive cancers.

One of the most important effects of exercise is to reduce chronic inflammation inside the body depriving immature cancer cells a chance to mature. The other massive factor and where we see the massive influence of strength training is the effect that muscles of active people have on the hormone insulin. The more muscle you have the better as you will see shortly.

This is something we discussed in great detail in our recent article on Type 2 Diabetes, and it no surprise to see that these two diseases are very closely related. Many cancer survivors end up being type 2 diabetics due to the problem with insulin!

The muscles of active people absorb blood sugar in response to insulin much more effectively allowing the pancreas to secrete lower amounts of this hormone and reduce its harmful effect on cancer cells. When your blood sugar becomes elevated from eating poor quality foods, insulin is released to direct the extra energy (sugar) into storage. A small amount is stored as a starch called glycogen, but the majority is stored as fat. If you do not exercise at all this is an even bigger problem as all this storage has nowhere to go!

Can you begin to see how poor quality food combined with lack of activity creates the perfect recipe for cancer to develop?

What Type of Exercise Is Best?

This is a great question, as many people when they hear the word exercise the first thing they think of is running, cycling, or some form of movement that gets you sweaty and puffed out. This is what refer to as "Fitness" training but not necessarily "Health" training. Don't get me wrong they can be a great form of exercise for some people, but generally it is not my first choice. This is for several reasons.

When you are in a position of poor health your body is in what is called a Catabolic State, or stress response. This means the body already has a great deal of chronic inflammation to deal with and it needs to reduce the inflammation with a carefully designed program to encourage the anabolic hormones to fire up.

And the best way to do this is with strength training in combination with walking, meditation, Tai-chi and Yoga. Your body does not need more stress but a way to cope with stress.

Strength training is the real secret and this is why.

A team of experts tracked the lifestyles of over 8,500 men for more than two decades. Each volunteer had regular medical check-ups that included tests of their muscular strength. The men who regularly worked out with weights and had the highest muscle strength were between 30 percent and 40 percent less likely to lose their life to a deadly tumour.

Even among volunteers who were overweight, regular weight training seemed to have a protective effect, although the researchers stressed that keeping a healthy weight was still crucial for avoiding premature death. But they added, "In the light of these results, it is equally important to maintain healthy muscular strength levels.” Researchers said it’s possible to reduce cancer mortality rates in men by promoting resistance training involving the major muscle groups at least two days a week."

Reference: The Telegraph May 26, 2009 & Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 18, 1468, May 1, 2009

This helps to explain the mystery with my dad in that he was able to tolerate a terrible diet with smoking for so long. His massive muscle mass was protecting him. Eventually it caught up with him, but just imagine the shape he would still be in if he was eating well and not smoking?

But it is not just the males that strength training has a profound effect on. Strength training stimulates the release of the hormone testosterone to build and repair muscle and in females this hormone is found in very low levels. When testosterone is out of balance by over stimulation of estrogen is when breast cancers are more easily developed.

By using strength training regularly and releasing the counter of testosterone it helps to suppress the estrogen hormone from creating a cancer inviting environment. Don't worry girls you will not get big from lifting weights either. You can read more about that in this great infographic - Strength Training for Women.

Here is a short list of the various benefits of using a strength training program to add muscle.

  1. Muscle is the biggest influence on your metabolic rate. The more you have the faster your metabolism and the easier it is to lose weight
  2. Muscle regulates hormones and helps to prevent chronic heart disease
  3. Muscle improves bone density and prevents bone fractures, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and can even reverse osteoarthritis.
  4. Muscle prevents injury and improves stability across all joints
  5. Muscle improves sporting performance by increasing speed and power.

Now before you rush out and start crushing the weights make sure you learn to move well first and earn the right to train hard. If you ignore this you risk developing an injury which is the last thing you want. You will find all the exercises and techniques you need to know featured in the free report below.

Read our detailed article - Why you should never sacrifice exercise technique to see more about this.

Once you have implemented your strength workout and have built a solid base to work from you can begin adding some additional cardio workouts like swimming, running and cycling. Interval training works much better than long and slow cardio for it also produces the anabolic process that strength training creates.

Watch the quick video below to see more about this.

Now as much as exercise and strength training is great, you must be careful to not make the mistake of doing a workout and thinking that is all you need to do for the entire day. This is where we see the trap of being fit and strong but still sedentary. You must make a constant effort to move throughout the day and if your job requires you to sit all day you will need to be creative in making this happen.

Active but Sedentary

This answers our question of HOW MUCH exercise is enough to do during the week. Most recommendations are to do 30-45 minutes or physical activity per day which would as we have discussed is a fantastic way to prevent this disease. But, if that is all you do for the entire day you are still exposing your body to a cancer rich environment.

If you worked out for 30 minutes per day and the rest of your day you sat down, your total activity percentage of available time to move might be only 4% at best! In this example, the 30 minute workout while it is great to do and has some amazing positive aspects that we have just discussed, is pretty much cancelled out by the negative impact on the metabolism by the 96% of sedentary activity the rest of the day.

In addition to your strength training and interval training you must incorporate regular short walks and accumulating incidental movement as much as possible. Fast walking is one of the best forms of exercise to use for back pain as we discussed in great depth this year and something that is common to the sedentary office worker.

Use of stand-up desks, taking the stairs instead of the lift, parking your car in the furthest car space instead of the closest one are other great examples of maintaining more movement. Using Fit-bits or smartwatches with pedometer tracking are great tools to help motivate you to move. Small amounts of regular activity, even just standing and moving around throughout the day is enough to bring the increased levels back down. And those small amounts of activity add up – scientists have suggested that 30 minutes of light activity in two or three-minute bursts could be just as effective as a half-hour block of exercise.

Read the article - Move more and sit less to see more about this.

Vitamin D vs Skin Cancer

As much as there has been great awareness campaigns about the danger of skin cancer, I think this has been over-exaggerated in comparison to the amount of people suffering with Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is best obtained via sunlight and experts show that we need at least 10 to 15 minutes a day, with at least 40 percent of your skin exposed to achieve our minimum requirement of 20mg per day.

Originally Vitamin D was thought to only be responsible for the regulation of calcium and bone health and the prevention of rickets, however recent research over the last 20-30 years shows it influences a lot more. It has a massive effect on our immune health and reducing inflammation in the body. There is no doubting it is essential that we are exposed to sunlight during the day, yet the scare campaigns with skin cancer have convinced people that we do not need any sunlight at all!

Now I am not suggesting to go out on a lounge chair and start sunbaking like people did in the 70’s and 80’s. However, I think people need to be aware that they are not getting anywhere near enough sunlight instead of too much as the advertising tells them.

Statistics in this article by NCBI show that cancer from ultraviolet rays from the sun equate to only 2% of the total deaths from cancer as opposed to 29% from smoking! Reference: Obesity and cancer. Wolin KY, Carson K, Colditz GA Oncologist. 2010; 15(6):556-65.

Compare that to the startling statistics of Vitamin D deficiency throughout the world and its link to multiple diseases and ailments and you will begin to see there is a bigger problem with lack of sunlight than too much.

You can read more about Vitamin D in this detailed article – Vitamin D is critical to your immune health and this is why

Starve Your Body of Sugar & You Cut off Cancer’s Fuel Supply

The old saying, “You are what you eat” is so true and goes without saying that it is something that we see people all too often neglect. Processed foods loaded with sugar and preservatives wreak havoc on the body and once again provide the perfect breeding ground for cancer to thrive.

Controlling sugars and insulin is very important for preventing cancer, and along with eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre would be where many people could make some big improvements. If we look at the damage the sugar creates first you will see how easily our diet lays the foundation for cancer to take hold of our body.

The main problem with sugar, and processed fructose in particular, is the fact that your liver has a very limited capacity to metabolize it. According to research, you can safely metabolize about six teaspoons of added sugar per day. But the average person consumes closer to 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to all of the chronic metabolic diseases we currently see. And the longer they remain untreated and continue to grow they eventually morph into cancer.

The Keto diet is a great way to learn how to control blood sugars by eating a diet most comprised of good fat. When following the Keto diet your daily food intake would be made up of approximately 70% fat, 15-25% protein and the remaining 5% in low energy carbohydrates such as vegetables.

This type of diet, in which you replace carbs with moderate amounts of high quality protein and high amounts of beneficial fat, is what I recommend for everyone, whether you have cancer or not. It's simply a diet that will help optimize your weight and health overall, as eating this way will help you convert from carb burning mode to fat burning.

This is also one of the reasons why a high-fat diet tends to discourage cancer. A key point to remember is that while normal cells can use either glucose or ketones derived from fat as fuel, cancerous cells lack this metabolic flexibility and need glucose to survive and multiply.

Cut off their supply of fuel, and you effectively starve the cancer cells to death.

In combination with intermittent fasting this is a powerful way to keep cancerous cells from maturing, for it literally starves the cancer of any fuel. There is a great report at the bottom of the page you can download that includes tons of information about these topics.

You Must Eat a Diet Rich in Fibre

Lack of fibre is a real problem in today’s society as people do not drink enough water or eat anywhere near enough vegetables. When your gut is deprived of fibre this quickly leads to digestive problems like constipation that provide the breeding grounds for colon cancer. Apart from the obvious benefit of improving digestion a high-fibre diet releases the hormones of leptin and ghrelin. These hormones are essential in your efforts to lose weight, feel full and prevent onset of insulin problems associated with diabetes and cancer.

Another area that many people would not be aware of is how important fibre is to your lung health. A study involving nearly 2,000 adults revealed low fibre intake was associated with reduced measures of lung function while a diet rich in fibre-containing foods may play a role in improving lung health.

Here is what they found:

  • 68%of those with the highest fibre consumption had normal lung function compared to 50 percent with the lowest fibre intake
  • 15% of those who ate the most fibre had airway restriction compared to 30 percent of those who ate the least
  • People who ate a lot of fibre scored better on two breathing tests, indicating larger lung capacity and the ability to exhale more air in one second

In this study, the high-fibre group was consuming 18 grams of fibre a day or more, which is still on the low end of what you should, ideally, be eating. A general rule is to make sure you get 20 to 30 grams of fibre per day.

One of the fastest ways to improve your fibre intake is using Psyllium Husk which is something I use every day for the past 4 years and swear by it. I have one teaspoon of this every day added to my muesli for breakfast or in a drink later in the day.

Apart from psyllium husk the best source of dietary fibre comes from vegetables which is great for they are easy to get your hands on and include in almost any meal. Unfortunately most people do not eat anywhere near enough vegetables, especially the green veggies that are loaded with anti-oxidants to fight inflammation.

There are basically two types of fibre:

  • Soluble fibre which is found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans, and nuts, which dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer, which can help with weight control
  • Insoluble fibre which is found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots. It does not dissolve at all, and helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.

That covers how to prevent cancer, but what about if you have been diagnosed is exercise still good?

Early Detection Via Regular Screening Tests

Cancer screening at regular intervals with effective tests is established to protect against some specific cancers. Early detection of a cancer can make a big difference to the effectiveness with the treatment and people over 50 are encouraged to partake in regular screens.

This is currently a massive problem at the moment here in Victoria where I live, as the Covid-19 lock-downs have seen a dramatic decline in people going in for testing of cancers. Their fear of catching Covid-19 has turned them away from going to the doctor for a test. Research as at the end of September 2020 shows there is a whopping 30 per cent reduction in reports for the five most common cancers: colorectal, prostate, breast, melanoma and lung.

I have spoken in great depth in many articles this year about the Governments reckless policy making regarding lock-downs and I predict in 2021 the damage of this will be seen with diseases like cancer. Early detection dramatically improves the outcomes of patients and it is unfortunate many people may now find out much later when it could be all too late!

To see more about early detection go to the Cancer Council website.

What about Exercise for Cancer Treatment?

As I sit behind the computer typing this article my dad is undergoing a complex 13 hour surgical procedure to remove a deadly cancerous tumour in his mouth! While we are confident that he will be okay and get through the surgery alright, we also know he will be left with a reconstructed face that will change his life forever. He would be the first to admit that his lifestyle did not do him any favours, having been a heavy smoker for almost 60 years and placing very little focus on healthy eating or exercise. And I am sure if he had his time over again he would make better choices.

However, there is one factor that he did have going for him that helped keep things at bay for a long time and possibly made him a bit complacent. And this factor is undoubtedly a big reason why he rarely got sick, and did not develop problems like Type 2 diabetes or other health conditions that you would expect to effect a person who eats poorly and never exercises.

This factor is MUSCLE!

My dad was blessed with a great deal of muscle mass and was one of those people that only had to look at lifting a heavy object to put some size on. He never went to the gym but if you saw him you would swear he did as he had massive shoulders and chest.

In one of our previous articles earlier this year we quickly discussed how strength training changes more than just your muscles, but this article I wanted to explore the relationship muscle has with cancer in greater detail to show you how important exercise is for not only preventing this deadly disease, but also in treating it!

If you are unfortunate to be diagnosed with cancer, don't fall for the old myth that rest is the best medicine. On the contrary, exercise has been shown to significantly boost your chances of recovery and survival.

Back in 2016-17 we were running a Cancer exercise class for people receiving treatment from an Oncologist who was referring his patients to us. It was interesting to observe the improvements of some of the patients who really embraced exercise and eating healthy versus those who were solely relying on medication and the chemo to do cure them. 

Many researchers and studies have also found exercise to be of great benefit during cancer treatment. For example, a 2005 Harvard study found that breast cancer patients who exercised moderately for three to five hours a week lowered their odds of dying from cancer by about half, compared to sedentary patients. In fact, any amount of weekly exercise increased a patient's odds of surviving breast cancer to some degree, and this benefit remained constant regardless of whether women were diagnosed early on or after their cancer had spread.

Exercise has also been shown to minimize the side effects of conventional cancer therapy, and improve cancer patients' quality of life. As discussed earlier you cannot underestimate the power of exercise to our mental health and this can directly influence your energy balance, immune function, and hormone levels.

Indeed, there's not just one mechanism responsible for its cancer-fighting effects. There are many, starting with the fact that exercise decreases your insulin resistance, which is a profoundly effective strategy to reduce your cancer risk. Eating healthy food, getting a good night sleep and reducing your stress are all great ways to help your body to create a low sugar environment that discourage growth and spread of cancer cells.

As soon as my dad has recovered from his operation and is able to move around it is vital he goes about trying to improve his muscle mass. He had already lost a lot of muscle in recent weeks leading up to the operation and he will have lost even more from being bed ridden.

Do You Need More Help?

Make sure you get a copy of our detailed report below that features everything you need to know about improving your overall heart health. I created this report to include ALL of the specific exercises and foods to eat for treating and preventing various chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Click here to download your instant PDF copy.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 200 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily.

Summary

Cancer is a terrible disease and no doubt many of you reading this article will know of someone close to you that has had or has it right now like me. While there are things out of our control, there are many things that we can influence in a big way. By establishing good habits into your lifestyle with exercise and food now you give yourself every chance of avoiding this horrible disease taking over your body.

I hope this article gives you some additional knowledge and ideas that you can share with friends or family. While it is good to live a long life, it is more important to live a life that is full of activity and energy and free of limitations for to do all the things you want. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is nothing you can do and that cancer is a part of getting old.

If you do need specific help with setting up an exercise and nutrition program please feel free to reach out to me for help by clicking the image below and we can set you up a free consultation to discuss how to get you started.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Preventing Cancer - By Richard Beliveau & Denis Gingras
  • Cancer Council
  • Obesity and cancer. Wolin KY, Carson K, Colditz GA Oncologist. 2010; 15(6):556-65.
  • Weston A Price Foundation
  • Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute 
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Functional Training for Sports - By Mike Boyle
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Precision Nutrition 
  • Nutrition & Physical Degeneration - By Weston A Price
  • Big Fat Lies - By David Gillespie