Are you fit enough to beat cancer?

Are you fit enough to beat cancer?

How fit do you need to be?


Medical science has proven conclusively that fit people are not only ill less often, but also recover more quickly after an illness or an operation. 

Numerous research studies have also shown that regular exercise helps prevent cancer. 

Exercise has now been shown to improve the success of treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Most importantly, studies from the USA show conclusively that regular daily exercise helps improve cancer patients’ survival. In fact, in 2012 The American Cancer Society reported that there had been an ’explosion’ of research and that there was ’overwhelming’ evidence that exercise increased cancer patients’ survival times and could help people stay cancer free and prevent a cancer returning.  

Daily exercise helps you live longer. Fact. Even if you already have cancer.

The problem is that too many people associate exercise with weight loss and outward appearance when what happens inside you provides the real survival benefits.

But there is a caveat. Too much exercise is NOT good for you. Seriously.

One person wrote in to CANCERactive saying that they used to be incredibly fit and ran marathons but still developed cancer! Unfortunately, being incredibly fit doesn’t stop you being toxic if you live next door to a cement factory or work in certain industries. And, believe it or not, one of the best ways to throw your hormones out of kilter and to release free radicals and to create insulin issues is to ’overdo’ exercise and run marathons. Research from Kansas State Medical School has shown that in strenous exercise, the body reserves the oxygen for heart, brain and muscles and ’shuts down’ the supply to internal organs where the cancer may be!

They, like CANCERactive, are sure that the best exercise is ’light to moderate daily exercise’ for about 40 to 60 minutes; exercise like brisk walking where you get puffed. Exercise like Tai Chi or Yoga, can also have major benefits despite being ’calm’ as you will see. (Chris Woollams, CANCERactive).

Exercise helps prevent cancer

Back in 2002, researchers at the University of Bristol reviewed 52 International studies on exercise and cancer.

They concluded that physical activity could significantly reduce the risk of bowel cancer and may help prevent breast, prostate, lung and endometrial cancer.
Specifically, they found compelling evidence from 37 studies reviewed on bowel cancer that regular exercise could cut the risk of developing the disease by 40-50 per cent.

From 37 of the 52 studies on exercise and breast cancer incidence, scientists found evidence that showed typically a 30 per cent reduction in the risk of the disease in women who exercised on a regular basis. Generally, the benefits of exercise were stronger for post-menopausal women than pre-menopausal women.

A 2008 study of girls and young women, also covered in icon, shows that those who exercise regularly cut their risk of breast cancer by the age of 50 by almost a quarter. High levels of exercise between the ages of 12 and 22 offered the most protection.

Other studies have shown that cancers of the colon, lung, kidney and rectum have all been linked to a sedentary lifestyle, a lack of exercise and surplus weight. Finnish researchers have examined exercise in the general context of cancer and shown that poor fitness increases your odds of getting cancer statistically, in just the same way as graphs linking smoking to cancer do.

Different exercises

And exercise helps survival

The same Finnish study concluded that exercise also helps fight cancer if you already have it and the Bristol researchers reached the same conclusion as well with data showing that exercise could also help patients recover from cancer.

American research has shown that exercise increases blood oxygen levels and that sensitises cancer cells so that more of them are killed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Importantly, newer studies have focused on the frequency and type of exercise and shown that the old stereotypes of lycra-clad lovelies burning calories three times a week in perspiration-filled aerobics classes is not the requirement for beating cancer. For example, in 2006, the American magazine Integrative Cancer Therapies reviewed all the research studies covered by them over the previous 12 years and concluded that women with breast cancer who take daily light exercise, have twice the survival rates of those who take none. Several US Cancer Centers since then have conducted research saying the same thing. For example, the conclusion from Philadelphia and Seattle research was that 30 minutes a day, every day, was important but that it did not matter what form the exercise took. This was backed up by research from the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital which concluded that yoga indeed, even your first ever yoga lesson could reduce stress hormone, cortisol, levels by 25 per cent, 5 times more than being sent home to rest for a week.

The finding that exercise doesn’t have to be tough to be effective, but does have to be daily, takes us full circle. Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle showed that women who exercised a little, but every day, reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by 17 per cent. There is even research that shows physically active people have less cancer doing strenuous housework, or making beds every day reduces colon cancer risk by 22 per cent. Finally, even the myth that playing golf doesn’t count as real exercise has been laid to rest. Although Mark Twain dubbed golf ’A good walk, spoiled’, researchers at the Karolinska Institute found that playing golf regularly improved longevity by 5 years on average. The study was based on a review of 300,000 of the country’s golfers who, when compared with equivalent non-golfers for age and sex showed a 40 per cent increase in life expectancy.  "It’s a low intensity 7 kilometre walk in the fresh air", said a researcher. "Swinging your arms and increasing blood and lymph flow." Apparently players with the lowest handicaps (i.e. better players) have the lowest rates of mortality.

What is Being Fit?

A lot is written about the Chinese and their low rates of cancer, but usually only in the context of diet. To attempt to cross the street in a rural town in China is risking death by a thousand bicycles. Chinese people walk, pull carts and cycle well into their old age. Sixty million alone practice Tai Chi daily!

 Even playing golf is now linked to longevity.

Meanwhile, most British people kid themselves they are fit. "I’m fit, I walk the dog at week ends"; "I have a regular game of golf every Sunday"; "I do the gardening in the summer"

Yes, these have been found to help - but you need to do something every day.

The modern British life is basically sedentary. The average rural Chinese person, according to a study in Epidemology magazine, burns 3,500 calories per week in natural exercise. To put that in context, 1,800 calories per day is the intake recommended for a UK woman!  A US study covered in icon showed that women with the lowest breast cancer risk are those taking more than 6 hours of exercise per week.

And be careful. Research shows that going off to the gym for an hour in the morning, then sitting at a desk all day is bad news. Obviously, it is good to get exercise. But increasingly, research is showing that the time you spend ’sitting’ is the negative determining factor, not the length of time exercising in the gym.

And don’t overdo it. I was ’stalked’ by two marathon runners who developed cancer a few years back. "Look how much exercise we did, we were so fit. Yet, we got cancer". Actually marathon runners tend to pour carbs down their throats - diabetes and cancer are both concerns. And after a marathon, your body is full of free-radicals and toxins from the breakdown of tissues in the body.

No Need For ’The Burn’

Official Western Health Authorities haven’t helped putting out official statements like "to be fit you should do 20 minutes aerobic exercise, three times per week". On one hand it doesn’t sound much. But fitness trainers in gyms teach that during the 20 minutes you should exercise consistently with a certain, quite high heart rate. Before that you should gradually warm up, and afterwards gradually cool down adding ten minutes either side. So its really at least 40 minutes.

yogaDuring the middle 20 minutes fitness trainers are taught that their subjects should be working throughout at 85 per cent of their maximum heart rate. This is calculated as follows. Take your age away from 220, then take 85 per cent of it. For a man of 60 the work-out should consist of twenty minutes where your heart rate is consistently at around 136 beats per minute. (220- 60 = 160 x 85% = 136).

However newer research into the subject repeatedly shows that to beat cancer and to be fit in general, requires movement throughout the day, with a dedicated period of LIGHT exercise. 

A sensible, controlled and long-term commitment to a healthier you

The problem with the whole concept of taking exercise is that people have been taught to equate it with losing weight. In the 1980s gym membership grew, especially with slim 20-somethings. It was fashionable. Now membership is growing from the over 50s who feel they ought to lose weight. The problem with this is that if you join a gym, during the first three months you are extremely unlikely to lose an ounce. 

Why? Because, whilst you will be burning calories, you will also be adding muscle. The muscle weight will just substitute for the fat weight.

And this is a major problem. If people join a gym to lose weight, when the scales tell them it hasn’t happened after 3 months, they quit.

But something was happening deep inside their bodies, they were becoming HEALTHIER.

Build the new ’you’ - become healthier!

1. Regaining helpful muscle

One pound of fat contains approximately 3,000 calories so at the outset of your new fitness programme you will not lose weight quickly, especially when you consider that your first hour on the bicycle in the gym will burn just 400 calories. But even the longest road starts with the first step. You start to burn fat after roughly 12 minutes of aerobic exercise, and fat stores toxins in your body because it is a very good solvent. Immediately you start to lose fat, you will lose the stored toxins. You will free the toxins from your cells, move them round your body, and excrete them as you perspire.

 For every pound of muscle you add to your body, you burn 30 calories 

                                              per day just to maintain it.

And over the weeks as you rebuild some lost muscle, an upward spiral starts. Muscle increases the metabolic rate of the body. For every pound of muscle you add to your body, you burn 30 calories per day just to maintain it. So by losing three pounds of fat and substituting it with three pounds of muscle you might feel gloomy when you stand on the scales, but as you continue your fitness programme now you have some help - over a week the extra muscle will be burning 1000 calories or so, even when you sit in front of the TV! Given the daily normal intake for a woman of 1500-1800 and a man at 2500-2800 you can see that the benefits will start to multiply. Bear in mind that we are not talking about building "muscles", just converting some of the fat back into the state it was, when you were a little younger.

Drink plenty of water after your exercise to flush out those toxins, and eat protein within two hours of the work out to rebuild the muscle.

2. Releasing happy hormones

Exercise causes the production of endorphins, often called happy hormones, in your body. These hormones, along with the blood oxygenating power of exercise, will help you combat any depression tendencies.

Moreover, endorphins help balance and neutralise the stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This should result in a calmer, less stressed and less anxious human, exactly what the recently-diagnosed cancer patient needs to be.

swimCortisol is actually causative of cancer. Worse, when you develop cancer your cortisol and adrenalin levels go up. This causes more inflammation in the body, and cancer loves inflammation. It helps it spread. Exercise produces endorphins which neutralise cortisol and adrenalin. More exercise equals happier breast and prostate cells, less localised inflammation and less cancer support.

Endorphins reduce the higher levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 hormones found in cancer patients. As I explained elsewhere IGF-1 makes your cells divide a faster rates than you would like stimulating the growth of a cancer. Again, exercise limits the cancer support system. 

If you do venture into a gym and lift a few weights under supervision to the point of having tired muscles, you will also cause Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to be produced. If you are over 50 years of age you are hardly making this hormone any more. Like melatonin, it is produced about one and a half hours into your sleep when young. But resistance training will produce a shot of growth hormone at almost any age. Weight bearing exercise will also limit the risks of osteoporosis, negating any need for your doctor to suggest HRT. Best of all, HGH is a powerful neutraliser of free-radicals and helps to break up fat stores and reduce blood fat levels. HGH will help you build lean muscle.

3. Reducing ’Visceral fat’ and circulating fat levels

Several studies show how important this is. Whilst, at first, your new daily exercise programme might not result in weight loss around your tummy, something major is stirring inside you. Your ’Visceral fat’ (this is the toxin-holding, ’nasty’ fat that surrounds and chokes your internal organs) is breaking down. It starts during the very first exercise session after about 15 minutes. So while the fat round your waist may seem to be stubborn, the fat you cannot see, the fat that holds toxins next to your colon, heart and liver, is starting to break down and disappear. New research on this shows just how important this is. And only a little light exercise is needed to achieve results.

Fat is also the main building block for oestrogen, the female sex hormone that drives so many cancers. Several research studies have shown with breast cancer and prostate cancer patients that serum lipid levels are linked to higher oestrogen levels in the body. For prostate cancer patients serum lipid is also linked with higher levels of testosterone and PSA readings. (The benefits of lycopene (in tomatoes) for prostate cancer patients include reducing serum lipid levels, and thus PSA levels.) Exercise reduces serum lipid levels and thus the levels of both hormones.

Reducing circulating fat levels will also take the strain off the liver. In cancer patients the liver is overworked and can be especially fatty, causing a knock on effect impairing the whole immune system. Reducing blood fat levels improves liver and immune function.

4. Reducing blood glucose levels

One of the factors instilled into all personal trainers is that for the first twelve minutes of any exercise regime, the body uses all the free glucose circulating in the blood. After this it has to start turning to the fart stores for energy.

When you exercise you will reduce the levels of circulating glucose and as I repeatedly tell you, glucose is the primary food of cancer cells. People with the highest blood levels of glucose survive the least. Exercise has the opposite effect of eating in that insulin levels are depressed. Again, this results in lowered levels of nasty localized eicosanoid hormones being produced by the Cox-2 driven pathway.

5. Oxygenating Your Cells

Most fitness books talk about the benefits to your heart and circulatory systems of exercise and it is true that you should see a gradual improvement in your blood pressure and your peripheral cardio-vascular system.

Your heart will become stronger and your blood more oxygenated

Your heart will become stronger and your blood more oxygenated. Your lungs will learn to work again. Most people who take no exercise only use a third of their lung capacity. The other two thirds of their lungs has stagnant, polluted and toxic air sitting there. This impairs the whole two way process of exchange oxygen going into your blood and toxins coming out. Increasing the efficiency of your lungs and the peripheral circulation will deliver oxygen all the way to your breast cancer cells.

Oxygenating your cancer cells has been shown to be crucial. They don’t like it and become sensitive. Normally, a hypoxic pocket (think of it as a valve) in the blood supply stops oxygen getting inside the cancer cells. But taking drugs, having radiotherapy, even using a sugar-free diet, weakens the valve and allows oxygen into the cancer cells. They die.

6. Eliminating more toxins

With exercise you will perspire more and this will eliminate more toxins.

You will move your colon and this will help you eliminate more toxins. Even a single sit-up will help this process.

You will physically move your lymph. Your cells are bathed in a fluid called lymph and you have twice as much lymph in your body as you have blood. The only problem is that the lymph system has no heart to pump it round the body. At night when you go to sleep, so too does your lymph system. While much is made in health books and the media of improving your heart, blood system, lowering cholesterol and so on, arguably moving the lymph is far more important and yet is poorly understood.

You must ensure a constant flow of clean lymph past your cells each day. The largest lymph duct is the thoracic duct, which passes across your chest. Move this and the whole system starts to flow again. Immediately you understand this fact, you will understand why exercise does not have to be strenuous, but does have to be daily. Certain exercises, like breaststroke swimming, press-ups, Tai Chi and yoga will get the chest and lymph moving, as will yawning and laughing.  Yes, and even swinging a golf club!

Deep breathing, which is used as a part of Chinese cancer treatment programmes, can also kick start the lymph system and clear stagnant air from the lungs.

Of course, aerobic exercise pumps your heart faster and this stimulates the thoracic duct too.

7. Improving the free flow of energy

Finally, exercise, be it pilates or yoga, meditation or golf will also improve your posture, which in turn helps remove restrictions on your lymph and energy flow. Changes are seen in the Kirlian photographs of cancer patients who do take daily exercise. Their energy profile becomes stronger and more balanced.


Realise this is a commitment for life, not a quick fix.

This is all about building a healthier you with significant changes going on right from the first days exercise, even if you cannot see any changes for several months. 

Please don’t measure your gain in fitness by weight loss. Set yourself little, achievable goals, but not the sort that read, "I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks". For example, ask the health club to measure your fat content and set a target goal for fat percentage reduction. Or, "In 6 months time Im going to be able to ride a fitness bike for thirty minutes at 80 revolutions per minute". These are goals that deliver health.

Exercise - it’s a commitment for life

Plan your own personal DAILY programme. A long walk on Sundays, the gardening on Saturdays, yoga on Mondays and Thursdays, the gym on Tuesdays and Fridays, the pilates class, or a swim. And so on. Click on this link and read our excellent overview on Complementary Therapies you are bound to find several that you will be happy  to try.

You’ve only got one life so make the most of it.
Think active. I understand for some cancer patients fatigue is a problem, even depression. But if you can force yourself out into the fresh air for 30 minutes a day you will see an improvement less tired and less depressed, if you exercise gently but daily you will be fitter, healthier, livelier.

And you will improve your personal odds of survival. Research is quite clear on this.

Take the time for yourself. Just 40 minutes a day. Go on - you are worth it. Build the new ’You’. A ’You’ that has a body conducive to health. Not a body conducive to cancer.


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