Cancer Patients and Survivors: Just Move!

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Yesterday, Mya posted about research exploring how physical activity plays a role in helping cancer survivors feel better.

Based on that growing body of research, the American College of Sports Medicine released the first ever guidelines for physical activity and cancer survivors yesterday at their annual meeting in Baltimore.  AICR is exhibiting at the conference, so I was able to catch the presentation on this topic.

The Number One Recommendation:  Cancer patients and survivors should engage in physical activity.   Basically, as much as possible follow the 2008 federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:  at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity and 2 times per week resistance training.

The risk of not being active greatly outweighs risk that might occur from engaging in activity according to the panel that developed the guidelines.  The research showed improved quality of life, fitness, flexibility and greater physical functioning in patients and survivors who engaged in physical activity.

For trainers and  fitness professionals there are specific recommendations regarding doing individual assessments and tailoring programs for specific diagnoses.

But the strong message was to find a way to be active.

Read more about the guidelines here.

Check out AICR’s information on exercise for cancer survivors with tips on getting started and keeping it going.

Active Survivor Research

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This Sunday, millions of cancer survivors will celebrate the 23rd National Cancer Survivors Day, a day of events held in hundreds of communities around the world.

To mark the occasion, today’s issue of AICR’s Cancer Research Update recaps ongoing research examining how physical activity may help survivors feel better. You can read the article here.

Research exploring how diet, weight, and physical activity influence recurrence and secondary cancer is a booming field. Right now, AICR recommends that – after treatment – cancer survivors follow AICR’s cancer prevention recommendations for diet, physical activity and healthy weight maintenance (unless otherwise advised by a health professional).

You can find more information on issues before, during, and after cancer diagnosis by visiting AICR’s Cancer Patients and Survivors.

Obesity and Inactivity: The Evolutionary Perspective

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AICR’s expert report concluded that carrying excess body fat is a convincing cause of six different cancers (colorectal, postmenopausal breast, esophageal, endometrial, kidney and pancreatic) and a probable cause of gallbladder cancer as well.  That means that in the US alone, obesity is responsible for over 100,000 cancer cases every year.

And as obesity figures continue to rise, that number is likely to grow even larger.

How did we get here?

Last week, at the 3rd International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health, many researchers presented data tracking recent trends in the amount of leisure-time physical activity we’re getting, nowadays. But one of the keynote speakers, Dr. William Leonard of Northwestern University, presented an intriguing talk that took the long view.

The very long view.

Like, hundreds of thousands of years long.

Dr. Leonard is an  anthropologist, you see.  He talked about how humans evolved, specifically how how changes in our diet and activity level changed our body type.

Basically, said Dr. Leonard, as our brains got bigger, they placed larger demands on our metabolism, and our diets became more nutrient- and calorie-dense to support them.

Leonard proposed that the recent and much-talked about uptick in the calorie-density of our foods over the past few decades (higher fat content, larger portion sizes) is simply an extension of what’s been happening to us, on an evolutionary scale, for millions of years.  But the difference is key: dietary changes that used to to take thousands and thousands of years to occur have happened within a single lifetime.

Even so, he suggested that we might be missing the real story by focusing so much on the increase in calories in our diets.  In fact, he notes, while calorie content of the diet in the developed world has increased since the fifties, that increase leveled off in the 80s.  Yet obesity rates continued, and continue, to rise.

To explain this, he suggests that it’s decreased calorie expenditure that plays a larger role in obesity than caloric intake.

Throughout our evolution, our caloric intake increased to match greater and greater needs we placed upon our bodies – hunting calorie-dense animals is more demanding than gathering low-calorie-dense crops. But this eon-old trend toward increased calorie-burning is now experiencing a dramatic reversal: Our jobs have become much more sedentary since the 80s and the advent of the computer.

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to actively and effectively meet our caloric needs from the environment. But now we’re suddenly accelerating the trend toward more calories – and by changing the physical environment to make things easier, we’re reversing the evolutionary trend toward burning more calories.

The net effect: we’re upsetting an equilibrium our species has managed to maintain for thousands and thousands of years.