Exercise as a cancer therapy
Over the past few years, exercise has emerged as a potential therapy (in conjunction with other standard treatments) to help delay cancer progression, reduce recurrence risk, and improve overall survival. Did you know that physical activity has been linked to between 30-60% risk reduction in cancer-specific mortality?
The mechanisms for the beneficial effect of exercise on cancer is complex and multifaceted. Here are a few ways exercise can work (in no particular order):
1. Improved immune system function
A good immune system is necessary to slow cancer growth. In fact, there is a whole type of treatment which aims to increase fight from your immune system called immunotherapy. Excitingly, aerobic exercise has been shown to increase the production of immune cells (i.e. natural killer cells), and infiltrate these cells into tumours. Natural killer cells can produce an approximate 60% reduction in tumour incidence. These immune cells are mobilised within minutes of your exercise starting, and maximal mobilisation of these immune cells is achieved after 30 minutes of exercise. This essentially means you need to have small doses often to get the best effects. Exercise once per week may not cut it. Exercise may also positively affect immune cell activity through muscle contraction-induced release of beneficial immune cells.
2. Increased blood flow to a tumour
The region surrounding a tumour is typically low in oxygen (hypoxic) because the body is not able to deliver enough oxygen amidst the disorganised and poorly working vessel structure of a tumour. During exercise, blood flow increases all over our body, including around any tumours. If we keep exercising, we can improve how arteries, capillaries and veins work within and around the tumour. All of which increases the delivery of our body’s own cancer killer immune cells and therapeutic agents such as chemotherapy drugs, making treatments more effective.
3. Regulating the way our genes express to help fight cancer
Epigenetics is a big word for changes in the way our genes express in the body without actually changing our DNA sequence (all of the those A, C, T, G’s that we learnt in science classes). Epigenetic alterations are necessary for cancer cells to grow and divide; however, on the other hand, exercise can modify the way our genes express and regulate and reduce the growth of cancer cells. This is a fairly new discovery, and more research is needed to understand what types of exercise are more effective for different, ages, races and cancer types. Exciting none the less.
4. Inflammation reduction
Chronic inflammation is widely recognised to encourage tumour growth in several ways: (1) Suppresses programmed cell death (apoptosis). (2) Promote cell growth (proliferation). (3) Improve the ability to spread to nearby tissues as well as distant organs (metastasis). Exercise can play a large role in reducing inflammation via several processes. Getting active can reduce pro-inflammatory markers (the bad ones) and increase the number of myokines (small secreted proteins that can reduce inflammation). All of which can prevent the growth of tumours.
It must be noted that research is still evolving in this area. The effects of exercise on different cancer types still needs more time and research funds. We cannot definitely say exercise will have a significantly positive effect on every cancer and will not cure your cancer in isolation. However, it is clear that being active has so many benefits for cancer patients.
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If you would like to read more:
Exercise protects from cancer through regulation of immune function and inflammation (2017)
Mechanisms of Exercise in Cancer Prevention, Treatment, and Survivorship (2020)
The Exercise and Sports Science Australia position statement: Exercise medicine in cancer management (2019)
So you’ve been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
You might be sitting there wondering where to go from here? You FINALLY have an explanation for why you’ve been experiencing all those symptoms; hooray! This is good news (even if it doesn’t feel like it) because NOW you can do something about it.
Root cause of PCOS
Managing PCOS enables you to take back control of your life and it starts by finding the root cause driving your symptoms.
PCOS occurs when there is an imbalance of hormones in the body (this is what causes all those annoying symptoms you’ve been experiencing). So it makes sense the aim of managing your PCOS should be to determine what’s causing this imbalance and work towards re-balancing your hormones.
Insulin Resistance & PCOS
This is the most common type of PCOS. Insulin resistance occurs when the body stops responding to insulin, and both sugar and insulin levels in the blood start to rise. High levels of insulin can stimulate androgen production, thus disturbing the normal balance of hormones.
A blood sugar test from your GP can determine whether you have insulin resistance. If insulin resistance is driving your PCOS it’s particularly important to adopt a healthy and nourishing diet, and exercise regularly to manage and improve your blood sugar levels.
Inflammation & PCOS
Inflammation can be present in all types of PCOS. Things such as; stress, food sensitivities, poor gut health can lead to long term inflammation in the body. Long term inflammation can disrupt the body’s normal hormone levels and wreak havoc on both your physical and mental health.
Symptoms of inflammation are things like; fatigue, anxiety, IBS like symptoms, or joint pain (to name a few). If inflammation is the driver of your PCOS: determine your underlying source and start including positive lifestyle behaviours to support your body and manage your symptoms.
Adrenal & PCOS
If you don’t fit the insulin resistant or inflammatory type PCOS you may be one of the few women who have an adrenal form of PCOS. This occurs when the ovaries function as normal but the adrenal glands produce androgens in response to “stress” which can then result in an imbalance of hormone.
A blood hormone test (testing for DHEA/DHEA-S) from your GP would help determine whether adrenal glands are functioning as normal. If your stress response system is driving your PCOS, learning to manage your stress and support your nervous system is vital!
Knowing your root cause can be a game changer when it comes to better managing your PCOS. Now you can work towards re-balancing your hormones, improving your symptoms, and get back to feeling better day to day!
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PCOS can make you feel like you’re going insane!
Some days are good, some are bad, and then there’s the days you just feel plain awful. It seems like nobody understands how you feel or what you’re going through, heck sometimes you don’t understand what’s going on and life feels out of control. Trust me when I say you’re not alone and trust me when I say there IS something you can do to take back control of your life!
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (or PCOS) occurs when there is an chronic imbalance of hormones in the body. This can cause havoc on the body and possible symptoms are; fatigue, bloating, hair loss or unwanted hair growth, acne, and weight gain.
What YOU can do about your PCOS?
So you may have been told to “lose 5-10% of your body weight” or “take these medications”, or if you have lean PCOS the classic “there’s nothing we can do, so just come back when you’re trying to get pregnant and we’ll help”. But let me tell you… there IS something YOU can do to help get your life back!
Now I’m not talking about going out and flogging yourself at the gym or running until you vomit. I’m talking about the kind of exercise to get your body moving, make you feel better, and improve your PCOS symptoms.
How will exercise help my PCOS?
Exercise can help you manage your PCOS in a number of ways such as;
- Help to balance your hormones,
- Reduce symptoms such as;
- Low moods, anxiety, and/or depression
- Help regulate your periods and hence increase chance of pregnancy,
- Manage your weight either by;
- Reducing body weight by 5-10% (which helps improve symptoms and increase chance of pregnancy), or
- Improve body composition by increasing muscle mass and maintaining a healthy level of fat (very important for ovulation!)
Along with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and learning to understand your cycle you can also improve acne, hair loss, unwanted hair, and improve overall well-being, and give you back some control in managing your PCOS.
Exercising for PCOS
So now you know why exercise is good for PCOS, but how should you add it into your life? Here is a bit of a guide…..
- Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week of moderate aerobic exercise
This is important for reducing inflammation in the body, and improving symptoms.
- Add 2-3 strength training days into your week
This is important for improving body composition, increasing metabolic rate for weight loss, and supporting the body through pregnancy.
- Find a form of exercise that you enjoy
This will make it much easier to stick with and reach your health goals, whether that’s gym exercises, pilates, group classes, running, swimming, aqua aerobics, cycling, dancing, hiking, there’s many ways to exercise so think big!
- And most importantly listen to your body!
Move in a way that will leave you feeling good, this may change how you exercise day to day, but it is important for long term recovery of your body.
There you have it, how you can take your health into your own hands and manage your PCOS. If you would like some more information or help in managing your PCOS contact one of our Exercise Physiologists and we will help you through your journey to better health.
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Should I workout when I’m sick?
You would be amazed how often I hear this question. At least once a week I will get a message from a client who are feeling a little under the weather. Saying that they are unsure if they should come in and train, or not.
And — like most things in the health industry — it depends.
Should I workout when I’m sick?
I get it.
You have finally gotten into a solid training routine. Finally gotten in a couple consistent weeks of exercise. Your feeling good, seeing progress, and making change.
And boom — disaster strikes.
A head cold, a runny nose, or even a mild cough.
But are these enough to stop you from working out, or should you just push through?
The “above the neck” rule
When it comes to working out when sick, I tend to stick with what is known as the “above the neck” rule.
This rule simply suggests that if you are strictly experiencing symptoms above your neck, then you are probably fine to exercise. This means that if you have a head cold, a stuffy nose, or a mild earache, you are good to go.
However, if your symptoms extend below the neck (think a chest cough, fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea) then you might want to give it a miss.
How do I know for sure?
Now, while the above the neck rule does provide a simple way of telling whether you should workout or not, it isn’t always 100% accurate.
See, when you are sick, your body is working overtime to get better. It needs extra energy to support your immune system, and often extra rest as well. With this in mind, it is important to remember that exercise places your body under more stress that it needs to recover from.
This can obviously impair your ability to heal.
As a result, even if all your symptoms are above the neck, there are still times when you might want to avoid exercise. These include:
If you fall into one of these categories, give your session a skip and get some rest.
But what about my gains?
But what about my gains?
One of the most common reasons people want to keep training (even when they are sick) is because they don’t want to lose their fitness.
And I get it.
I mean, you have spent all this time training diligently, and now its all going down the toilet — right?
Well, not quite. See, you will be happy to know that it actually takes a decent amount of time to lose fitness.
In fact, if you stop exercising completely, you wont start losing strength or muscle mass until around your third week without exercise. Similarly, it is unlikely you will see any loss of endurance or aerobic fitness until after your second week without exercise.
Note here that I said if you “stop exercising completely”.
Positively, if you can even get in one training session per week, your loss of strength and fitness will be attenuated significantly. This means that if you have a day where you are feeling good, you can sneak in a light session to avoid any losses of fitness occurring.
In short, you have nothing to worry about!
Take Home Message
Should I workout when I’m sick? Well, I think we have answered that question pretty comprehensively.
In my mind, adhering to the above the neck rule is a great place to start. However, if you are simply not feeling up to it, or exercise makes your symptoms worse, then you should probably give it a miss for now.
And no, you don’t need to worry about losing all your gains, because that wont start to happen until week 3 without exercise — so make sure you take some time to recover if you need it!
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Is weight training good for your bones? Yes, it certainly is — if you implement it optimally of course. So find out how you can!
Over the last couple of weeks I have written a couple of articles describing how and why weight training is good for your joints (check them out here and here).
So I thought I might as well keep that ball rolling and answer a question that comes up more often than you might think: “is weight training good for your bones?”
What You Need to Know About Bone Health
Keeping your bones healthy and strong is pretty damn important.
I mean, if they become weak and brittle, then you are going to be at a much higher risk of incurring bone fractures and breaks.
Now this obviously not a good thing.
In fact, it can be an absolutely terrible thing.
I mean, while a fractured bone will be an uncomfortable experience for most, it can be a literal death sentence for some individuals (particularly those entering their golden years).
So, to put it simply, strong bones = healthy life.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease is typified by a significant reduction in bone density.
This occurs when your rate of bone production is outweighed by your rate of bone degradation (which i should mention is a normal process). In this scenario, your bones will become weak and brittle, in which you become much more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
But here is the really scary thing: osteoporosis affects more than 700,000 Australians over 50 nationwide.
And no, that is not a typo.
More than 700,000.
For those of you playing at home, that’s a helluva lot of people.
Now, the good news is that osteoporosis (and the decline in bone density that precedes it) is not a death sentence.
In fact, there is a growing body of research clearly demonstrating that exercise can have a seriously positive impact on the health of your bones.
And of those types of exercise that appear to have the most benefit?
Well, encase the title of the article didn’t give it way, weight training appears to be king.
Is Weight Training Good for Your Bones?
Amazingly, progressive weight training has been shown to cause steady increases in bone mineral density. Importantly, this occurs in:
- Healthy individuals,
- People with diagnosed osteoporosis
- Those at a high risk of developing osteoporosis
So, by simply weight training a few times per week, you can see some huge increases in your bone health.
This is not only going to significantly reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in the long run, but will also limit your likelihood of experiencing bone breaks and fractures.
Optimising Weight Training to Improve Bone Health
You now know that weight training is the key to increasing the health of your bones. But there a few things that need to be considered here:
- Heavy loads appear better at stimulating bone growth than lighter loads
- Free weights that place load on the lower limbs and the spine appear most effective
- You need to progressively increase loads as you get stronger, to continually force adaptation
- Three sessions per week appears optimal
If you manage to adhere to these general rules, you can be guaranteed that you will see some good improvements in bone density.
Take Home Message
So, is weight training good for you bones? Yessir, it certainly is.
If you implement it optimally, of course.
With this in mind, weight training is something that should be performed by all individuals — especially those looking to improve bone health and stave off osteoporosis.
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Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy, that originated several thousand years ago. Yoga began as a spiritual practice, as a way of reaching enlightenment, but in Western culture it has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the West typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as hatha, iyengar, bikram, and vinyasa yoga focus on these elements. Several traditional yoga styles encourage daily practice with periodic days of rest, whereas others encourage individuals to develop schedules that fit their needs.
What do we know about the effectiveness of yoga?
- National survey results from 2012 show that many people who practice yoga believe that it improves their general well-being, and there is beginning to be evidence that it actually may help with certain aspects of wellness including stress management, positive aspects of mental health, promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits
- Yoga may help relieve low-back pain and neck pain
- There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life
- Yoga may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar
- Growing evidence indicates that along with the help of products from Balance Activ, yoga may help women manage both physical and psychological symptoms of menopause
- Yoga may be helpful for anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations
- Yoga may help people to manage sleep problems
- Yoga may be helpful for people who are trying to quit smoking
- Yoga-based interventions may help overweight/obese people lose weight
What do we know about the safety of yoga?
Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Serious injuries are rare, however, as with other types of physical activity, injuries can occur. (One of our honours students, Zoe Toland, is currently working with one of our EPs, to investigate the most common forms of yoga injuries as reported by physiotherapists, yoga teachers and yoga practitioners – we’ll keep you updated with the results!).
The most important thing to remember, as with any exercise, is to listen to the feedback your body gives you and modify and adjust what you’re doing accordingly. We want to push ourselves, and whilst feeling some level of discomfort is okay (think muscle burn and high level of challenge), but pain is our bodies way of saying ‘probably best to not do this’.
People with certain health conditions, older adults, and pregnant women may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. These individuals should discuss their specific needs with their health care professional/yoga instructor and may be better suited to more clinical yoga classes.
What happens in a yoga class?
Sometimes the biggest thing that stops us from trying something new is not knowing what to expect and fearing we’ll be the awkward newbie! So let’s go through what you can expect from a yoga class (or at least ours!)
- Yoga mats and all the props you will need (a block, a strap, a bolster, a towel) are provided, but you can always bring your own if you would prefer!
- The teacher will introduce themselves and talk about what the focus of the class will be; this could be a range of things from a certain postural focus, or an attention focus, or it could be a focus on the pace of movement
- Classes start with slow, controlled, warm-up type movements and typically move into some more challenging series of movements; you can expect challenges that target strength, balance, range of motion, focus, stability, control and your attitude toward the practice
What you won’t get…
- Spiritual-talk. We’re not dissing the spiritual talk, but we prefer to focus on your physical and mental alignment in class
- Chanting. We get it, it feels a bit weird.
- Basically, anything that’s not evidence-based within the scientific literature, won’t be included in our classes (e.g., chakras, lifestyle choices)
How often should I practice yoga?
The recommended frequency and duration of yoga sessions varies depending on the condition being treated. In general, studies examining yoga have included weekly or twice weekly 60- to 90-minute classes. For some studies, classes are shorter, but there are more classes per week. So whilst the research evidence is inconclusive, we think that any form of exercise that is challenging strength through range of motion, and providing you with a form of mindfulness is a great addition to your weekly activities!
Our recommendation: as much or as little as suits your body’s needs and fits in with your weekly schedule.
iNform’s NEW Clinical Yoga Classes!
We are super excited to be launching clinical yoga classes at the end of May, at our new Malvern clinic! Classes will run on Thursday mornings and evenings, for a duration of 45 minutes and will be run by our Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Teacher: Jacinta Brinsley. Jacinta is also completing a PhD in the area of yoga and mental health/mental illness.
If you have any questions, want further information, or want to book in for a yoga class – fill out this form
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