Reversing the Process That Feeds Cancer with Exercise

Hand grabbing weight off rack at gym.

Our behavior choices can dramatically affect our long-term health. That was the main message delivered at The Vail Symposium, which teamed up with Vail’s highly respected Shaw Cancer Center to offer a thought-provoking series of presentations titled Life After Cancer: How to Not Only Manage, But Thrive.

Fred Bartlit, co-founder of and co-author of Choosing the StrongPath presented some hard facts and recent breakthrough research on illness and fitness, emphasizing the essential role of strength training and muscle tissue in whole body health.

Betsy O’Donnell of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, presented Hope in Motion: Obesity, Exercise and Cancer, which presented research into how excess fat can trigger cancer growth. Hope was to be found in further studies documenting that exercise of muscle tissue, the more intense the better, alternatively reduces the risk of cancer by reversing the process that feeds cancer cell growth.

Reversing the Process That Feeds Cancer with Exercise

These two independent presentations turned out to be highly complementary and together opened up an understanding of how and why our health in later years can be impacted by the nutrition and activity choices we make early on. It is not just the risk of getting cancer that can be reduced, but a great many of the worst and most common chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, sarcopenia, arthritis, asthma, osteoporosis, frailty, and a great many other devastating conditions.

The world health implications of the findings are colossal. Simple common health behavior shortcomings underlie the development of many chronic diseases. For example, type 2 diabetes alone is a rapidly expanding global health crisis currently affecting 285 million adults, and is on track to affect 439 million in just 12 more years. And, there is a link between type 2 diabetes and cancer. Epidemiological studies have recently demonstrated that the risks for breast cancer incidence and mortality are increased in individuals suffering from type 2 diabetes. Breast cancer incidence and progression are powerfully affected by lifestyle factors and health choices, including healthy or unhealthy diets and exercise or a sedentary lifestyle.

Why Do Diet and Exercise Matter so Much?

Because obesity significantly increases the risk for numerous chronic diseases including insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, and some forms of cancer. Fat used to be thought of as simply a store of otherwise inert calories that could be released when other parts of our body needed to draw on energy reserves. This has turned out to be a woeful misconception. Adipose tissue is now recognized as an active metabolic organ that can and does influence cancer growth, invasion and metastasis.

As we complete the circle, a grand understanding emerges, which has been missing in medicine, because of the siloed nature of medical expertise. Physicians who specialize in a particular chronic disease do not have equivalent expertise in other chronic diseases nor in Dietary Science or Exercise Physiology. Yet, these all together turn out to be critically connected and lifestyle elements prove to be prevention and care pieces of the puzzle that are vital components of the overall health care picture.

Urgent Need to Do Exercise and Eat Nutritious Foods

In a recent report, co-author of Choosing the StrongPath Dr. Marni Boppart said that the fact that so many people are incurring degenerative-type diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, means we must try to reintroduce exercise and proper nutrition into our lifestyle again, and we need to do it immediately. Skeletal muscle is also an active metabolic organ regulating our whole body’s ability to keep our blood sugar in balance. Regular physical exercise boosts our immune system and is known to cut our risk of major chronic illnesses/diseases by up to 50 percent, and reduce the risk of early death by up to 30 percent. That’s because exercise works to reduce and even reverse the damage brought on by metabolically active fat.

“Exercise releases many beneficial circulating factors that not only impact the muscle itself, the local tissue environment, but also benefit the central nervous system, the liver, the GI tract, and other organ systems,” Dr. Boppart said in the report on diabetes. “There’s no other mechanism that exists that allows you to have such a strong, positive response that is integrative in nature. It simply doesn’t exist… In all the years I have spent studying physiology and health, I am convinced that exercise is the only mechanism that will allow for maintenance of health through the lifespan. There isn’t any other option.”

The More Intense the Exercise, the Better

Harvard Medical School special health report—Strength and Power Training for All Ages—adds important advice. Most people think of walking, going for a run, or doing other cardio exercise when they envision exercise. The faster, the more intense. Harvard warns that if one’s exercise is limited to forms of cardio, then an individual is missing a level of fitness that doing cardio alone, even intense cardio, just cannot deliver. Strength and power training slows bone as well as muscle loss, improves balance, helps address back pain, arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases.

That’s what and the book, Choosing the StrongPath is working to reveal—all of the benefits of strength training on long-term health. Dr. E. David Crawford, head of urological oncology at the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colorado recently announced as he introduced Fred on his podcast, Grand Rounds in Urology, that he recommends his patients read Choosing the StrongPath, calling the book a “game changer” in the battle to prevent and manage cancer.

Before embarking on any exercise routine, please speak to your doctor.

RELATED: Listen to Dr. Crawford’s full interview of Fred as they discuss the positive effects of exercise on the outcomes of people with cancer.



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