Physical activity is an important part of health. Your body was meant to move, built to move. Without movement, your body doesn’t work right.
If you ask your doctor what you need to do to stay healthy, they will probably mention some form of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. If not, it’s a missed opportunity to enhance health and well-being. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the legs of a three-legged stool in self-care (diet, exercise, and rest/relaxation).
Physical activity is well-researched and has many benefits in regards to weight management, heart health, controlling diabetes, promoting bone density, lowering risk of depression, and yes, preventing cancer.
Physical activity for cancer prevention.
When it comes to cancer specifically, all of the above matter. Weight is a direct link and risk factor for hormonal cancers like breast (1) and prostate (2). Elevated glucose or blood sugar levels also independently correlate to increased cancer risk (3). Inflammatory markers are not only important in monitoring heart disease but also indicate risk of breast cancer (4) and colon cancer (5). And depression is another independent risk factor for cancer (6).
So why is exercise almost a dirty word? It’s because you know it, you hear it, but you get tired or busy or both and you just don’t do it. More importantly, you feel guilty because you don’t do it and then it becomes a double whammy – lack of exercise and guilty feelings for not doing it. I’ve been there. I’ve done it too. For sooo many years, I would start an exercise program and then I would stop. Just give it up cold turkey (because I got busy). Or I would get excited about running or join a new gym and then slowly it would dissipate, because the weather got cold or I couldn’t make it to the gym, or something always seemed to get in the way.
Here’s the thing, exercise is just one of the instructions listed in “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Human Being” manual on how to take care of yourself (and any other human). Maybe no one told you. Maybe you lost “THE manual”. Just like proper hygiene requires that you take a shower and brush your teeth and your hair daily, so too proper health requires you to move your body daily.
Sure there may be episodes, from time to time, like a big snowstorm when you don’t go outside for days that maybe you skip a shower or don’t brush your hair, but it’s not the norm.
And yes, there may be days when you can’t get outside or to the gym, and a workout goes by the wayside, but in an ideal world, it’s not the norm. The next day you go back to your regular class or run.
You can find statistics on how much exercise reduces risk of breast cancer (40%) or prostate cancer (30%), or mortality from colon cancer (50%) in various studies (7), but the most important piece of information is that regular exercise could save YOU. That’s the only piece of information that matters, isn’t it?
Physical activity for life extension.
The statistics are good, but your individual life is what matters most. And if I told you that moving your body in some way (walking, jogging, running, biking, swimming) for 30 minutes a day could save your life, you’d do it, you’d find those 30 minutes.
So why do so many of us wait until we are faced with some reason, like cancer, to recognize that exercise is a non-negotiable?
What do you do for exercise? What’s your favorite way to stay fit?
- Breast Cancer Res. 2014 Sep 28;16(5):446. doi: 10.1186/s13058-014-0446-2.
- Int J Cancer. 2012 Oct 1;131(7):1711-9. doi: 10.1002/ijc.27414. Epub 2012 Feb 28.
- Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019 Jun 12;10:367. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2019.00367. eCollection 2019.
- Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Apr 10. pii: cebp.1572.2019. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-1572.
- Public Health. 2017 Aug;149:138-148. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2017.04.026. Epub 2017 Jul 17.
- After Cancer Care. Lemole, GM, Mehta, PK, and McKee, DL. Rodale 2015, pg 77.