Exercise As a Cancer Medicine

Cancer treatment has its price, and I don't mean the cost in dollars, which is already high. Although treatment is often effective, it is not always the case, and can also cause exhaustion, among other adverse effects. Therefore, the search continues for options to prolong more, not only the life expectancy, but also the quality. Even more important, we must optimize strategies to prevent healthy people from developing cancer, something we know as prevention.

Contrary to all other medicines, the one I am going to discuss is free of charge, and has no mother, nor father. Surprisingly, in some types of cancer this medicine is as effective as chemotherapy. No, it is not sodium bicarbonate, "the kryptonite" against cancer that oncologists allegedly hide from the public "because we don't want our patients to heal." According to these cynics, if we cure them, we starve to death.

This medicine has no parents because it is not produced by any pharmacist and therefore the medical representatives do not visit us to talk about their virtues. The most interesting thing is that this treatment can not only prolong life, but also works as prevention. It is about physical exercise.


More than 10 years ago, many doctors worried that exercise could somehow worsen the condition of cancer patients, particularly in women with lymphedema, an arm swelling that occurs after breast and armpit surgery. However, since then we have witnessed extraordinary growth in studies related to physical activity and disease. In 2010, a group of researchers published their first but modest recommendations: exercise seems to be safe for most people with cancer and patients should, in general, try to stay active. But now, in 2019, there is much more information.

Last year, 40 researchers from 17 international groups met to determine if there was enough evidence to make more definitive recommendations on cancer and exercise. The group ended up reviewing hundreds of studies in animals and humans, which explored dozens of aspects, including cancer treatment and prevention. And this same month, the "American College of Sports Medicine" and the American Cancer Society, along with 15 other international organizations, have just updated their recommendations using new data on how much and what types of exercise can be the most useful for people They face a diagnosis of cancer. The findings were very punctual. Regarding prevention, they discovered that people who exercised had a lower risk of developing certain types of cancer compared to sedentary people. Exercise is especially effective in reducing the likelihood of suffering from seven very common tumors: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophagus and stomach cancer. In summary, it can be said that exercise is an excellent medicine for the prevention of these diseases.

But what they observed was not limited to the impact on prevention. In multiple recent studies, exercise also changed the trajectory of established tumors. Starting with studies in experimental animals, exercise, among other things, activates some tumor suppressor genes, stopping the growth of cancer. And in humans, exercise – during or after cancer treatment – is associated with significant survival. The authors conclude that exercise should be incorporated into cancer management. The evidence is already enough to be able to say that after a diagnosis of breast, colon and prostate cancer, exercise prolongs life. Patients with these tumors who exercised experienced a 31% decrease in the risk of dying from their cancer.

One of the most frequent complaints of my patients is the exhaustion produced, not by exercising, but by treatment. Until now there was no effective medicine to handle this. Therefore, one of the most important findings in these studies is that exercise is extremely effective in managing that symptom, but it should be a moderate exercise. Patients with exhaustion who benefited the most were those with prostate cancer. As if that were not enough, exercise also decreases the anxiety and depression that these patients often experience due to their diagnosis, and which in turn contributes to physical exhaustion.

The authors of these publications end up telling us that people with cancer should aspire to exercise at least three times a week at a moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes, and also if possible, lift weights twice for week.

At the Mutual Aid Cancer Center, we have long had a free exercise program offered to all our patients. This program is directed by a certified coach, “Paca” Benítez. Given the great benefits associated with the exercise, insurers should cover the costs of providing the necessary training in the policies. They would be much cheaper and even more effective than some medicines.

It is true that exercise is not a natural medicine. The desire to exercise does not come naturally to us, but the natural thing is to run away from exercise, and therefore those adept at everything natural and against everything artificial, could use that as a pretext to avoid it … but the exercise does not It is a synthetic medicine, so there is no excuse. We must all exercise. There are very few justifications to evade it.

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