While much attention has been focused on the potential anticancer effects of being physically active (i.e getting 150-minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, etc.), one of the most important physiological changes you can make to your body is to focus on building muscle mass.
Studies are indicating that the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risks of dying from the most common causes of death in U.S. adults:
- Heart disease
The reasons for this are complex, but are due in large part to the following:
- Muscle tissue consumes larger amounts of energy (glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and ketones) than any other tissue type in the body, increasing the body’s basal metabolic rate (your body burns more calories each day).
- Muscle tissues release numerous immune-stimulating, anticancer and anti-inflammatory proteins (i.e. myokines).
- The greater one’s muscle mass, the greater their exercise tolerance and ability to perform activities of daily living. Debility necessarily leads to diminished overall health and quality of life.
- As muscle one’s muscle mass increases, there is a larger storage capacity for dietary carbohydrates/glucose. Being able to store more glucose (as glycogen) reduces insulin resistance.
- Building muscle strength is one of the most important physiological factors associated with increasing bone density, and preventing osteopenia/osteoporosis.
Studies are even indicating that the more muscle mass patients have on their body, the more effective immunotherapy drugs work on their cancer.
Treat Muscle Building Like Any Treatment That Must Be Done Regularly
For the reasons mentioned, above, I strongly recommend that all cancer patients who are healthy enough to exercise to prioritize muscle building exercises into their weekly routine.
Exception: This is not recommended for patients who are extremely ill (i.e. cachexia, sepsis, organ failure, bowel obstruction, acute injuries, etc.).
TIP 1: In my practice, I tell my patients to treat muscle building exercise like any treatment (such as a medication) that must be done/taken on a regular basis, otherwise potential gains or physiological benefits will be limited.
TIP 2: To reduce your risk of injury, I first encourage that you get a referral to see a physical therapist who is experienced in working with cancer patients/survivors to determine your physical limitations. They will assess your range of motion, pain, strength, sensation and get a history of your medical conditions, surgeries and other treatments that might impact your abilities or lead to or exacerbate injuries. Your oncologist likely has an established relationship with local physical therapists they trust.
TIP 3: Additionally, I also recommend starting your exercise program with a fitness trainer who is experienced in working with cancer patients/survivors. Let your trainer and physical therapist know that you want them to discuss your limitations and goals, so that they help you achieve these safely and effectively. Ask your physical therapist or oncologist for a referral to a trusted fitness trainer.
TIP 4: You don’t need to exercise 5-days per week, spend hours lifting weights, nor work-out at a gym.
- You can work out at home or at the gym.
- You can use your body weight, resistance bands, weights or machines.
- Did you know that you can work out only 1-day per week and get as much, if not more, muscle building benefits as working out multiple days per week? In fact, studies show that doing a single set of a resistance exercise using higher weight, with slow and controlled movements, over 90-120 seconds until total muscle fatigue, once-per-week builds muscle mass similarly to working out with multiple sets at lower weights, multiple days per week. This comes from my one of my favorite exercise books: Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week
Reviews On The Body By Science Muscle Building Approach:
Cardiovascular Fitness Is Also Anticancer
I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t also accept the vast amount of data supporting the well-established association with increased aerobic physical activity and superior cancer and chronic disease outcomes.
If you want to build your aerobic strength and endurance using a more typical “cardio” approach, I strongly recommend reading this great review on the Maffetone Method (Subtract your age from 180 and call that your maximum aerobic heart rate. When you have a dedicated “cardio” session, never exceed that number. Pick a time to work, 20 minutes minimum, and slowly see how your distance improves.)
Perhaps you don’t want to put all your eggs into one basket by picking an either/or approach to your health. If so, combine both approaches (lower intensity cardio and short/intense resistance training), read this great review. (Consider doing the Big-5 workout on day 1, walk on days 3, 4, and 5, rest on days 2 and 6, and then repeat. Recovery from the 12-minutes of strength training would be enhanced by walking, and walking during the week would build aerobic fitness and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and early mortality.)
If you don’t have a lot of time to get your cardio workout done, I recommend you look into high-intensity interval training (HIIT). There are many forms of this. Most HIIT workouts take less than 30 minutes, and some are much shorter than that. Studies even show that there are anticancer effects after just one session of HIIT. Other studies report that cancer survivors who do HIIT have significant improvements in their quality of life and multiple physiologic variables after only a few months.