Tag Archives: fatigue

Exercise: The secret weapon for cancer prevention and treatment.

Exercise has broad and significant health benefits, making it among the most important healthy behaviors you can adopt. These benefits include improved muscular strength and endurance, stronger bones, and better cardiovascular system function. Exercise is also essential for maintaining a healthier body weight and body composition and improving metabolic health through blood glucose and lipid regulation.

But exercise causes changes at the cellular and hormonal levels that have even broader effects. Among these is a reduction in inflammation, which has long been linked to a lower risk of heart attack. Accumulating research suggests that reduced inflammation and improved immune system function may be an important way in which exercise reduces the risk of cancer. The role of exercise in cancer prevention and treatment is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

cancer exercise group


While we typically associate the immune system with communicable diseases like cold or flu, our immune system plays an important role in the body’s defense against cancer. Conditions like obesity, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle can promote chronic inflammation. Among other negative effects, inflammation can interfere with the normal functioning of the immune system. This impairs your cells’ natural cancer-fighting capacity, making it more likely that cancer will develop and spread. Exercise can reverse the immune system damage caused by chronic inflammation, reducing the risk of cancer development and progression as well as making it less likely you will become sick from a cold or flu.

The idea that exercise can reduce the risk of cancer isn’t new. I have written previously about the fact that regular physical activity can lower breast cancer risk by as much as 30%, improve survival, and reduce the risk of recurrence. A recent study confirms that high levels of physical activity can significantly lower the risk of breast cancer along with many other common types including colon, bladder, lung, kidney, and endometrial cancers.

In addition to helping reduce the risk of cancer development and recurrence, regular exercise can help you handle cancer treatment better. To be sure, cancer treatment can lead to extreme physical consequences including losses in weight, muscle mass, strength, and endurance. At least some of this is due to more time resting and less time being active, the effects of which occur within days and get worse over time.

You may have noticed this as weakness and fatigue after spending a few days in bed with the flu. Muscle strength declines at a rate of over 1% per day of bed rest, and can be 50% lower following as little as three weeks. That reduction in strength could limit a person who was already deconditioned to a point where he or she would have difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living. Bed rest can also reduce bone density, exposing patients to a greater risk of fracture.

The fitter you are when you begin treatment, the fitter you will be at the end because you have “saved” more strength and endurance in your fitness bank. You simply have more you can lose before you get to a point at which you can’t complete your normal activities. In fact, maintaining physical activity is a key component of cancer treatment. And post-cancer exercise programs are becoming more common as a way to help women recover from cancer treatment and rebuild strength, endurance, and feelings of wellbeing.

The best approach is to be active now to reduce your risk of cancer (and many other chronic diseases) and build strong muscles and bones to help you successfully handle any cancer treatment or periods of other illness you may encounter later.


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Too much of a good thing. Can you do too much exercise?

Is it possible to do too much exercise? Given the fact that most Americans do not meet minimum recommendations for physical activity, doing too much may not seem like an issue. To be sure, the biggest exercise problem most people face is not getting enough. But doing too much exercise can have negative effects.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Exercise fatigue


What constitutes too much exercise? First, let’s review the recommendations. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week and do strengthening exercises that involve all major muscle groups at least two days per week. This recommendation can be met by a 30 minute brisk walk five days per week or longer, more vigorous workouts two days per week.

Many people do more than this, often an hour or more of vigorous exercise each day. While this may seem like a lot of exercise, they built up to these workouts over months or even years. But they almost certainly started out with shorter, less intense exercise sessions. As their strength and endurance improved they increased the time and intensity of their training. Even now, they likely structure their workouts in order to allow recovery time. For example, a runner might do a long run one day followed by a shorter run the next. Weight lifters usually alternate muscle groups on different days: chest exercises on one day, arms the next, and so forth.

When beginning an exercise program, is it smart to start slowly and work your way up to longer, more intense sessions. A common occurrence is that new exercisers do too much too soon. This can lead to severe muscle soreness that limits the ability to exercise on the following days and, in some cases, injury. At the very least, a negative experience can cause a person to stop exercising. In fact, one of the most common reasons people quit an exercise program is injury or soreness early on. Taking it slow in the beginning can help you avoid these problems.

Even athletes with years of training experience can overdo it. Athletes are known for long, intense training sessions to develop the high levels of strength and endurance required to be competitive. But training too intensely or for too long can have negative effects. This phenomenon is called overreaching or overtraining and, for some athletes, can be as big a problem as not training enough. Overtraining can lead to poor immune function, reduced motivation, and fatigue, all of which can have a serious impact on performance.

Many competitive athletes intentionally do less in the days and weeks leading up to a big event. This is a process called tapering and it involves reducing training time and intensity, even including a rest day. This allows the muscles to recover and reduces the risk of injury. While many athletes—and coaches—think that a hard workout or practice before a big game is a good idea, failure to taper is more likely to lead to poor performance.

If you are like most people, you are probably not doing too much exercise. But you should make small increases in your time and intensity to reduce the chance of injury. If you are training for a run such as a 10k, half marathon, or longer event, you should cut back on your training time and plan a rest leading up to the race. And while more exercise is generally better for health and fitness, keep in mind that doing too much, especially early in a training program, can have the opposite effect.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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