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Let’s begin with a quote from a Harvard University report [1]: “If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidized by government. It would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment………the level of evidence is really indisputable and withholding exercise from patients is probably harmful.”

Well that statement can only be described as crystal clear. But it is also clear that people avoid exercise as much as humanly possible. Keeping my clients motivated is often my biggest job. But someone with cancer? Can they even do exercise? Well, yes. And they have to.

Research has shown that the blood of endurance athletes is toxic to cancer [2]. But that is just the start of the story. So much happens in your body when you exercise and there are a myriad of mechanisms by which cancer (and many diseases) are impacted. One of these is the lymphatic system.

Your lymphatic system can be described as the ‘house’ in which your immune system lives. You have twice as much lymphatic fluid in your body than blood. Your lymphatic system incorporates many lymph nodes, which are filters that trap pathogens for destruction by your white blood cells, which also accumulate in the lymph nodes. White blood cells are your immune cells, and this includes your Natural Killer Cells and neutrophils – the very immune cells that can kill cancer cells.

However, unlike your blood which has a heart for a pump, lymph fluid is pushed through a system of valves, and this process is dependent on movement. This means that if you are inactive (which is most people in the developed world) then your lymphatic system will under-perform, which means that your immune system will under-perform, which means that at some point you will get sick – including cancer. This is one of the main reasons sedentary living leads to chronic diseases.

But the answer is very simple – exercise. For many years it has been known that exercise has beneficial effects for a person with cancer, but it took a long time to figure it out. When you exercise Natural Killer Cells flood out of the spleen (which is also part of the lymphatic system) and ‘invade’ tumors, suppressing cancer. And not just a little bit – the effect is dramatic. [3]

The first obstacle to exercise for cancer patients is the idea that cancer and the associated treatments cause too much fatigue for anyone to be able to exercise. However, it has been demonstrated that the triggers for fatigue are all addressed by exercise, and that exercise significantly reduces fatigue in cancer patients. [4] This may be counter-intuitive, but the research is clear – and so is the experience of those who are willing to try.

So it comes down to which exercise and how much. Walking will get your lymphatic system working, which is a start. If that is all you can do right now, then do that. But my view is that walking is only transport – you really need to dig deeper than that. Cycling is a much better form of exercise. I cycle everyday, and run most days. I’m 62 and I have cancer – you can do it too. It just comes down to motivation.

It helps a lot if you can do something that you enjoy. Swimming? Tennis? I love kickboxing too. There are just so many options there is simply no excuse – and know that if you have cancer you have to find your way into an exercise routine. (And there is always a way!)

*The one caveat I apply here is that I take aspirin before exercise. This exposes cancer cells that are attempting to metastasize by hiding in fat cells, enabling the Natural Killer Cells to take ’em out. (Check with your doctor if you can take aspirin.)

If you think you can’t do it, then check out the ‘radioactive ironman’ [5]

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/exercise-as-part-of-cancer-treatment-2018061314035

[2] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0067579

[3] https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(16)30003-1

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4755327/

[5] https://radicalremission.com/profile/radioactive-ironman/