Fighting Cancer with Strength Training

Dan Piper, RKC, FMS, CPT,  Alameda, CA

In my years training, I’ve had some people come to me for reasons other than simply getting into shape. After the results of some major studies on the subject were released in the last few years showing how powerful exercise is in fighting many types of cancer, the Medical community has been sending their patients looking fighting Cancer, to Fitness Professionals, to teach them the art of strength training. After having taken on some of these cases as a Personal Trainer, I can only say what I’ve heard back from the Doctors and patients perspectives on the effects both before, during and after their treatment – it helped.

So I’ve complied some facts through research, and I wanted to put some more information on the topic out to the public to create awareness, one that I’ve found to be quite interesting and inspiring. I’ve gotten to play a small role as a Strength Coach of some people who have fought and won against Cancer.  These were hands down the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, as the impact that our strength training program had on different types of cancer was astounding.  In short, we kicked it’s butt.

    How Strength Training Fights Cancer

More Muscle/Lean Body Mass = Lower rates of Cancer  

According to study by Ruiz and colleagues is reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (May 2009):

“Muscular strength in the upper and lower body was tested using one-rep maximum in the bench press and leg press. Cardiovascular fitness was measured with a maximal treadmill test. In both categories, the men were divided into three equal groups based on age-specific performance. Men with the best performance were placed in the top third, the men with the poorest performance in the bottom third, with those in between in the middle third.

The study involved 8,677 men (age 20 to 80) who received comprehensive medical exams, including muscular strength and aerobic fitness testing, at the Cooper Clinic between 1980 and 1989. Body composition was also measured as part of the exam. During an average follow-up period of 18.9 years (ending December 31, 2003), 503 of the men died, 199 from cancer and 145 from cardiovascular disease. (Dr. Cooper has told me that I am enrolled in the ongoing ACLS.)

Here is the primary conclusion: “Higher levels of muscular strength are associated with lower cancer mortality risk in men, independent of…overall and central adiposity, and other potential confounders.” So there’s an inverse relationship between muscular strength and Cancer mortality risk in men.

You may read more here.

Preparation for Surgery

According to Mark McLaughlin, MD, who draws many parallels between the two, “You are about to enter the athletic contest of you’re life!” So you must prepare physically with pre-hab, just as one prepares physically in sports. He speaks about this here. It’s also very true that athletes recover from surgery extremely rapidly compared to the average individual.  

On pre-hab/preparation for surgery, I found the least information to be honest – which was slightly perplexing, as some of the cases I’ve treated have been before surgery/treatment. On this, I’ll just have to go on what the Doc said which was “Go hire a Trainer and start lifting weights”. They wanted the person I was training to have some of the same benefits going into surgery that athletes do.

During Recovery

Resistance training can help to increase strength, range of motion and balance which is important as survivors recover and move on to life after treatment. (Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. October 3, 2014)  Strength training is an important component of building back muscle lost to cancer, and loading the bones with weight will illicit increases in bone mineral density. After surgery or treatment, the body must be rebuilt to gain back strength and function. For cancer survivors, this is done in the gym, just as in athletics.  Immediately following treatment or surgery, however, (as beforehand it’s fine more often) the patient should exercise outdoors with or without their Trainer outdoors and not inside of the gym.  Gyms carry germs that can be harmful while you’re immune system is still weak, but don’t lose out on the benefits – just grab you’re equipment and step outside!

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