Run for your life: exercise is important for breast cancer patients

You don’t have to tell everyone at today’s Girlfriends Run for a Cure event in Vancouver that exercise is a great way to get and stay healthy.

But not long ago, exercise was not recommended for breast cancer patients. When researcher Kerri Winters-Stone stepped in the field nearly 20 years ago, she said the conventional wisdom about the exertion of cancer patients was: Don’t do it.

“Because fatigue was such a common debilitating symptom during cancer treatment, clinical practice has been to rest as much as possible,” said the scientist from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland. “Exercise can only make fatigue worse and make you feel worse, maybe enough to stop cancer treatment. So, slow down and save your energy. “

Then Winters-Stone met a cancer survivor – a working nurse and former athlete – who refused to slow down and exercise was credited with keeping her healthy.

“By staying active, she was able to do better than people in the IV IV who were sitting in their chairs,” said Winters-Stone. “She was one of the early trend-buckers who showed that exercise can bring real benefits.”

Girlfriends run for a cure

The charity event, which will benefit the Pink Lemonade Project and the Jaime Wyatt Miller Cancer Compassion Fund, starts at 9 a.m. today. If you haven’t pre-registered, get there as early as possible this morning to avoid a registration bottleneck on the same day. Visit for all the details.

The emerging field of exercise oncology initially came to humble conclusions, confirming that exercise can relieve symptoms such as fatigue and nausea, relieve anxiety, and promote better sleep. But then the work started to get deeper and more specific.

“We started treating cancer as a chronic disease and exercising as a long-term treatment strategy” for symptoms that don’t stop after treatment and a way to improve the overall quality of life, she said.

“There has been much more thorough research into whether physical activity has a direct benefit on tumors … or an indirect benefit, like improving patients’ tolerance for treatment so they can get more treatment,” said Winters-Stone.

Cancer patient training programs are not currently “standard care” or covered by insurance, but Winters-Stone believes research data will eventually reach them. She said the principle is no different than covering aerobic exercise programs for cardiac rehab patients as they can help prevent future heart attacks.

“We’re trying to get enough evidence to suggest that training needs to be started at diagnosis and moved into long-term treatment,” she said. “We’re proving that it can help people go through treatment and recovery and prevent the cancer from returning.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, a growing number of scientists are linking regular exercise with fewer cancer recurrences and better quality of life for cancer patients and survivors.

Like aspirin

Exercise is a bit like baby aspirin, said Winters-Stone: It’s a general prophylaxis that “prevents anything” by keeping the body fit, resilient and efficient.

But even in cancer patients suffering from certain treatment side effects, targeted training can produce targeted results, she added. For example, anti-hormone therapy can make bones fragile and increase the risk of fractures. And because it only takes one fall to damage the skeleton – or even the brain – cancer patients who have suffered a fall can give up physical activity, which only makes them more frail and less resilient.

Osteoporosis medications are one answer, but these can also cause long-term problems, Winters-Stone said. Better answers could be resistance exercises specifically aimed at stopping bone loss in the hips and spine, or improving balance and flexibility.

“We teach (patients) tai chi,” an ancient Chinese system of gentle, slow, meditative exercises, she said. “It’s a very effective fall prevention strategy for older adults. It really trains your posture control. “

Winters-Stone said she is currently compiling the results of a clinical study looking at how three different exercise programs – tai chi, weight training, or simple stretching – benefited a group of nearly 500 women, most of whom six months after Were chemotherapy.

“That’s typical of the exams we take,” she said. “They are used to formulate evidence-based training guidelines for cancer survivors.”

Guidelines and realities

The whole idea of ​​movement for cancer patients is only just making it into the mainstream, said Winters-Stone.

“In 2018, the American College of Sports Medicine was the first to issue guidelines for people with cancer,” she said. “Your main message was that exercise is safe and well tolerated. It can help. It’s not that cancer changed people’s basic ability to move. “

In fact, these guidelines for people with cancer are no different from the guidelines for all adult Americans set by the Department of Health and Human Services: We should all try at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (that’s two and). half an hour a week or just under 22 minutes a day) plus 12 to 15 repetitions of strength-building resistance (such as weightlifting), twice a week.

But, added Winters-Stone, guidelines are just that. Slow and easy is always the way to get started.

“When you take someone who has just had cancer treatment, it’s really hard to start with,” she said. “If we can help them find a way that works for them, that’s great.”

Social boost

One way that works well for many people is exercising with a spouse, partner, or buddy. The Knight Cancer Institute developed a study program called Exercising Together after researchers like Winters-Stone discovered the strong friendships prostate cancer patients made with assigned exercise partners – and how those friendships enhanced more exercise and greater health benefits both physically and emotionally.

“We had a buddy system and we noticed these really close relationships were developing,” said Winters-Stone. “We also got feedback that patients wished their spouses could join in.”

Cancer patients’ spouses and domestic partners are often neglected, although they also carry a heavy burden, she noted.

Exercising Together at OHSU is now enlisting breast cancer survivors and their spouses to continue researching all the benefits – from strengthened bodies to strengthened relationships – of exercising twice a week together or separately for six months.

“We want to see if it matters whether they train together or both train the same but separately,” said Winters-Stone. “Do we have better results when the partners are together?”

Many more scientists are excited to see the results, she said.

“We just received a large grant from the National Institutes of Health to further test the results and impact of this partner approach,” she said.

You don’t have to wait for a big grant. Test Winters-Stone’s theory that training with a partner is more fun, and ultimately more beneficial, by looking for a training partner – be it a spouse, friend, or even a class. Start a new walking, jogging, or fitness routine together, she suggested.

“Start small and build up the habit,” she said. “If you hold out for two to three months, I can almost promise you will find things change. Two to three months are not that long.

“You will see that you are successful,” she said, “and the success is a boost in itself.”