This morning I was doing some reading and stumbled across this blogpost, which really spoke to me, not just because exercise and oncology are my primary areas of professional interest, but also, because of the problems with our health care system which do not directly serve public health or care.
If you haven’t been around the running scene for the past several decades, you might not remember former U.S. marathon champion Ken Martin, but he ran a 2:09 marathon (that’s SUPER FAST) back in the day. Now he is an exercise-oncology research advocate and post-stem cell transplant cancer survivor. He writes an excellent blog on physical activity and cancer. Here is a quote from the blogpost.
“If patients are willing to have their bodies ravaged by surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, all of which can decrease physical function, then it shouldn’t be too much to do 30 minutes of walking a day, however one wants to carve that time up, as a part of cancer treatment plans or at least as a part of survivorship care planning. With better planning prior to first treatment maybe exercise can improve cancer treatments and reduce treatment side effects, including cancer related fatigue, which appears to be more debilitating than we thought.” -Ken Martin
If you don’t know how to plan an exercise program, and you make it either too challenging or not challenging enough, you will not get the benefits, because you either will give up, or you won’t be working hard enough to be effective. Current guidelines on exercise state that you should do at least the effort level of a brisk walk for 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, it doesn’t really matter how you split that up as long as you do it.
There is ample evidence of the health benefits of this type of exercise, however, in order to improve fitness beyond basic health maintenance, it is necessary to do more than this, in terms of how hard, how often, and how long. When a client comes to me frustrated because they have been able to do 150 minutes a week but feel they haven’t accomplished the fit, hard body like they hoped, I explain it takes much more than that to achieve the fit, hard body.
Evidence suggests that certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer, are better addressed by at least 6 hours of this level of exercise weekly. That may be because the health of the GI tract depends on adequate motility, and exercise helps to “keep things moving”, but there are lots of other reasons this could be the case, I won’t even attempt to make assumptions.
The point is, if you want to exercise but know very little about how to plan an exercise program, and especially if you’ve had some sort of chronic disease or cancer diagnosis, it’s important to work with a coach who can help you determine what you need, what is appropriate for you and a realistic starting point for you. It takes time, patience, and persistence to achieve the benefits, but you will.
When you think about how much health care costs and how much pain and suffering you go through as a result of chronic disease, why wouldn’t you want to make the investment in yourself before these things occur? Either you will prevent the illness from occurring altogether, or if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer or another illness, by being physically fit you will likely reduce the overall amount and length of medical interventions such as medications, chemo, surgeries, tests, labs, imaging that will you need, which reduces the cost, too.
Nursing takes a holistic approach to health, and that’s where I’m coming from as a health coach with a nursing background. I look at all of things that affect our overall well-being. Physical activity is one of them, and I believe a huge part. It’s not everything, but it is an essential piece of the puzzle, linked to all of the other pieces holding us together. It takes time and a little money to incorporate health behavior changes and reap the fitness benefits, but it takes a lot less time and only a tiny fraction of the cost, for example, of complications of diabetes, or cancer treatment and associated recovery.