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Texas Family Medicine November 2022 Blog

Cardiac Exercise and Cancer Prevention

If you are like most other people, you or someone you love has been affected by cancer. Just this month, cancer took the life of a childhood friend of mine.

The most common forms are breast, prostate, and colon cancer. Lung cancer has held a top five sp

ot for many decades but it has decreased somewhat as fewer people smoke.

Exciting and Promising News

Researchers in Israel announced that they discovered a novel way to prevent metastatic cancer. It is aerobic exercise.

How does it work?

The scientists found a link between how an organ uses glucose and cancer growth. In less healthy organs, sugar consumption is inefficient. That leaves plenty of glucose energy for cancer cells to consume and grow.

When we run or bike uphill our hearts pump rapidly and our muscles consume glucose at super high rates. This action causes our internal organs like the liver, brain, and intestines to become efficient utilizers of sugar.

So in people who exercise regularly and with some intensity, internal organs don’t have extra sugar lying around for cancer cells to use and multiply.

What does it mean for you?

All of us have heard advice from our doctor that we should exercise to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Regular exercise prevents diabetes, keeps our bones and muscles strong, and prevents falls. We’ve known that for decades.

Now we have another reason to exercise beyond cardiovascular and orthopedic health: cancer prevention. And the treatment is safe, free, and has few side effects when done properly. We doctors love interventions that check these boxes!

I advise many of my patients to make a recumbent or Peloton bike part of the TV room furniture. These are relatively inexpensive means for a reliable exercise program.

On a bike, you can increase your heart rate to a moderate level and punctuate that program with intermittent sprinting, just for 30 seconds or so, to get your heart rate up to high levels. The American Heart Association recommends a target heart rate of 220 minus your age.

Researchers are now predicting that doctors will one day design an exercise regimen that is tailored to your specific needs. For example, if you have a strong family history of colon cancer, you should practice sugar-burning high-intensity exercise. If, on the other hand, you are at high risk for stroke, fat-burning, lower heart rate exercise may be the right prescription for you.

Tips for staying consistent:

  1. Choose a regimen that is not too difficult or arduous. If it takes too long, for example, you are not likely to stay consistent over time.

  2. Pick a non-weight bearing mode such as a stationary bike or swimming if you have orthopedic conditions such as knee or hip arthritis.

  3. Design the exercise so that it fits your life. I attached a computer stand to my recumbent bike so that I can return emails and complete other tasks while exercising.

  4. Find inside options so that bad weather doesn’t keep you from exercising.

  5. If you are extroverted, find spin groups that involve other people. You will find lots of encouragement!

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