By Nancy Gay
Ahoy matey! Gasparilla race weekend is almost here, and if you’re one of the thousands of runners planning to storm Bayshore Boulevard, you may be doing more than getting a good workout. Did you know that regular running may lower the risk of several types of cancer, especially of the colon, breast and uterus?
According to the National Cancer Institute, exercise has numerous beneficial biological effects on the body, which may contribute to a reduced risk of cancer by:
- Lowering the levels of hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, and of certain growth factors that have been associated with cancer development and progression
- Helping to prevent obesity and decreasing the harmful effects of obesity, particularly the development of insulin resistance (failure of the body’s cells to respond to insulin)
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving immune system function
- Altering the metabolism of bile acids, resulting in decreased exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to these suspected carcinogens
- Reducing the amount of time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens
So how much exercise is enough? As a general rule of thumb, try to get a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five times a week.
What if you’re being treated for cancer? Many patients naturally slow down and become less active for a variety of reasons — including fatigue, illness, stress and depression — and tend to remain sedentary after finishing treatment. But taking it easy is not a good way to promote long-term health, say Moffitt experts. It’s important to talk with your physician who can recommend the best fitness approach for you and help you get started as soon as possible.
If you’ve been inactive for a while, it’s important to challenge yourself slowly. Find an activity that you enjoy, set achievable goals and build upon your successes. Your energy level will return; in the meantime, rest when you need to and don’t get discouraged. Remember, doing something, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing. If you are running or exercising outside, be sure to wear sunscreen and get regular skin cancer screenings.
Finally, what about life after cancer? Physical activity may be beneficial for cancer survivors, especially when it comes to prognosis, weight management, increased quality of life, and improved outcomes during cancer progression or recurrence. Research shows that staying active can improve quality of life and have beneficial effects on body image, self-esteem, emotional well-being, sexuality, fatigue and pain.
Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. And remember, even a little bit of activity can go a long way.
Visit the Gasparilla Distance Classic website for information on race dates and times.