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Dr. Ryan Hewitt
When first diagnosed with cancer, patients are told to rest and reserve their energy, so it may sound counterproductive when they’re also told to exercise. It would seem that exercising would deplete the body of energy, but the truth is that exercising has a whirlwind of benefits for the cancer patient. Some of the immediate benefits are the same as for anyone who exercises and include a lower risk of heart disease, healthier bones, stronger muscles and joints and a healthy body weight. Yet there are other benefits of fitness that are specifically related to cancer patients.
Cancer patients, especially those diagnosed with rare forms like mesothelioma, often feel depressed and isolated as they combat their disease. Fitness provides physical and emotional well-being, things that are often lacking in patients with cancer. It’s recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, but doctors according to the nature of the cancer may modify the type and amount of exercise. Nevertheless, even small amounts of exercise can greatly improve one’s outlook on life and serve as fundamental treatments for mesothelioma.
In fact, one study showed that short workouts of eight minutes lower sadness, tension, fatigue and anger. Fitness is so crucial to one’s mental health that it has been shown to help people who suffer from severe mental illness to combat the disease without using antidepressants. Although not all factors are known at this time, the theory for why physical fitness is so advantageous has to do with the types of endorphins that are produced while exercising.
More specifically, there are chemicals that are released in the brain that act as natural painkillers to our body. This is why fitness has the direct benefit of making people feel better and stronger right off the bat and helps ease pain and discomfort. Furthermore, these same chemicals are known for improving happiness and leading to better sleep patterns, two crucial elements in the fight against cancer.
Of course, there is the direct benefit of losing weight, looking better and feeling more confident after working out, and cancer patients will find new-found happiness in these elements. This is especially important because some of the cancer medications cause bloating, weight gain and fatigue. Exercising can help improve these side effects so that they take less of a toll on the body.
It’s important to note that not only is fitness during cancer treatment critical, but also it’s the one major factor that will aid in remission. The American Cancer Society links one-third of all American deaths to poor diet, inadequate physical activity and obesity. By getting the body on the right path, being physically active and physically fit will lead to a better quality of life and prevent the cancer from returning. In fact, the American Cancer Society has found that although genes do influence the risk of cancer, it’s actually lifestyle choices that are the most influential.
For those diagnosed with cancer, life will never be the same. You will have a different outlook on life and may carry certain scars or physical limitations due to the cancer. But you have a second chance at life, and it’s important to embrace that life. Incorporating healthy amounts of fitness into your daily routine has both physical and emotional benefits that can’t be replicated by anything else. If you begin exercising as soon as possible, you’ll be able to enjoy the rewards sooner, have more energy and stamina to fight the disease and suffer fewer side effects from the medications.
-Guest posted by David Haas
Joining the organization in 2011, David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.
1. I don’t have time to exercise
2. I’ll work this sugar bomb off at the gym later
3. I can’t
4. Come on, live a little it’s not going to kill you to have a few
5. OMG I think I’m getting sick again, I need to get some pills from my doctor
6. Oh I can never give that up, I’m Italian
7. What’s the point, I’m too old
8. It runs in my family, there’s nothing I can do about it
9. Exercise is too hard and it’s not for me
10. Oh she’s healthy and skinny, she’s so lucky…..it must be good genes.
11. Everything in moderation!
12. I feel fine, if it ‘aint broke don’t fix it
13. I’m depressed, I think I need another pill to fix it
14. Eating healthy is too expensive
15. Diet Coke please
16. I’ll get the low fat one
17. Water…ewww, I don’t like the taste
18. I’ve tried everything and nothing works
19. Make sure you sanitize that, and wash your hands!
20. Don’t feed that to the dog, it’ll make him sick! That’s for the kids.
As a doctor of chiropractic I am fascinated with the inner workings of the human spine and nervous system and I have dedicated my life to teaching folks about the absolute importance of this master-controlling system. Throughout the past few years though I have been blown away with how little regard we have for our spine and central nervous system and how we are all enamored with the heart and cardio-vascular system. I ask folks all the time what their most important organ system is and inevitably the answer I get is not the brain….it’s the heart! Rightfully so, I guess, since heart-disease has been the #1 killer of men and women for the past 80 years. It is the central topic of discussion at most physician visits, aside from the pain-killer Vicodin the second most commonly prescribed medication in the United States are statin drugs, and according to the CDC every thirty seconds someone in the US has a heart-attack and every minute someone dies.
So why are so many dying of heart disease? Why does it seem that despite all the deaths it seems that everyone is still on cholesterol lowering statin drugs and blood pressure meds? Have we been designed with a genetic flaw to become predisposed to heart failure and clogged arteries? Is it all just a crap-shoot? Or do we have some control?
I’m here to tell you that I believe that you do have control and that you don’t have to be another statistic. All you need is the right information and the right daily actions. Here’s proof:
In most cases, bad habits run in families not bad genes. PhD scientist Dr. Bruce Lipton, who is a leader in the field of research called epigenetics, has taught us that your genes do not necessarily determine the fate of the health you enjoy, rather it is your lifestyle that controls the expression of your genes… and this determines your expression of health.
“The problem is that while they have an understanding that the mechanism isn’t working, they’re blaming the vehicle for what went wrong. They believe that the vehicle, in this case our bodies, is controlled by genes.
“But guess what? They don’t take into consideration that there’s actually a driver in that car. The new science, epigenetics, reveals that the vehicles—or the genes—aren’t responsible for the breakdown. It’s the driver.” – Dr. Bruce Lipton
So, if our genes don’t necessarily “predispose” us to things like heart-disease then what does?
The answer is STRESS!
I’m not talking solely about the mental-emotional stress that we feel when the bills are overdue and we are trying to meet all our deadlines….I’m also talking about physical and chemical stressors.
So what kind of things cause physical and chemical stress that leads to the expression of heart disease in your body?
1) Foods high in carbohydrate. It is well known that foods that raise our “bad cholesterol” (LDL), lower our “good cholesterol” (HDL) and raise blood lipids (Triglycerides) can lead to an unhealthy cardiovascular system. Foods that do this are also notorious for raising inflammation in our body that can lead to all sorts of chronic health disorders. What is not commonly known though is that excess carbohydrates are the main culprit. If you regularly eat foods that are high in carbohydrates then you are on a one-way street to heart-disease town. Examples of these kinds of foods are processed grains like pasta, cereal, bagels, instant oatmeal, and bread. Also most fruit juices, alcoholic beverages, soda-pop, most baked goods, and pretty much all junk foods including anything that says “low fat” (think about it, you take the fat out then it tastes bad, so you add sugar to make it taste better!). All these evil doers cause elevated blood sugar, which leads to elevated insulin, which leads to accelerated fat storage in your body, elevated inflammation, and STRESS that causes heart disease!
2) Foods with toxic fats. So what are toxic fats? Believe it or not, the toxic fats that harden and clog arteries are not the vilified saturated fats and cholesterol that have been maligned for decades. In fact, saturated fats have been found to be protective against heart disease! Think about it, we have done nothing but pull out saturated fats from our diets for years and chronic disease has done nothing but climb to all time highs! The fats that are causing all the problems are trans or hydrogenated fats and the excessive omega-6 poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s). First of all, you must be living under a rock if you didn’t know that trans-fats will kill you….but are you still choosing foods with them in it? Do you eat fast-food, canned soup, cake mixes, margarine or other vegetable oil spreads, frozen foods, baked goods, crackers, cereals, candy, or bottled salad dressings or dips? Then you are most likely consuming disease-causing trans fats! Foods that have toxic levels of omega-6 are foods like grains and cereals, vegetable oils, industrialized meat and dairy, soy products, baked goods, and packaged foods. The reason that the trans-fats and omega-6 rich foods are damaging is because these unstable oils oxidize or become damaged very easily in your body, and directly cause high levels of inflammation and damage artery walls (read: Heart Disease). Omega-6 PUFA’s will also displace essential omega-3 PUFA’s that are required for health and to keep inflammation at bay.
3) Chronic inactivity and spinal damage. If you aren’t moving at least 30 minutes per day, then chances are that you are moving more towards problems like heart disease rather than away. Chronic inactivity and lack of proper spinal movement does not allow for your joints to become properly stimulated and this creates physical stress to your nervous system. Stress to your nervous system is called a sympathetic or fight or flight response. This primitive system is there to save your life in acute situations where you need to either fight or flee a situation to save your life or avoid trauma. In a chronic scenario though (eg. sitting on your ass all day), this forces your body to adapt causing things like elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, compromised digestion, etc. We can basically call sitting the new smoking.
4) Smoking. Speaking of smoking…you can do almost everything right with your lifestyle, but if you continue to smoke then this one behavior can wipe out all your efforts. Cigarettes will lead to heart-disease, and many other horrible life ending or altering conditions.
1) Choose health promoting foods and avoid toxic carb and fat choices. In a nutshell, this means choosing fresh whole foods like vegetables, natural starches, fruits, nuts and seeds, naturally raised animals and naturally raised animal products. These foods are high in nutrients, high in cardio-protective fats, anti-inflammatory, and delicious! Avoid packaged processed foods, sugar-laden food, grain products, all vegetable oil-derived products, industrialized meats and meat products, all soy products, and baked goods. If you are wondering if this food is healthy, consult this food flow chart to help.
2) Exercise regularly. Whatever you do, just move your body. The simplest way to protect against heart disease is to just be active as much as possible throughout the day (eg. walking). Even better if you can lift weights or do resistance work 1-2 times per week, do the occasional cardiovascular activity like run/bike/swim, and ramp up the intensity to an all-out effort 1-3 times per week for short durations. This will give you optimal body composition, perfect lipid profile, and optimal health and wellness for a lifetime.
3) Get your spine and nervous system checked by a chiropractor regularly. Whether you sit at a desk, in a car, or you are the most active athlete around, if you do not have a proper functioning spine and nervous system then you will have unfavorable stress to your nervous system. Chiropractors aid the body to be better equipped for our unnatural sedentary lifestyle and traumatic hobbies that cause spinal damage. If left unchecked and uncorrected, spinal damage can lead to stress, degenerative disease in the spine, and chronic pain. Get the most out of life and protect your health by seeking corrective care from a chiropractor before your body tells you to take action!
4) Quit smoking and take up a healthy habit. There is nothing wrong with a habit, so long as it isn’t killing you. Find one that excites you and get into it, you’ll forget you ever smoked in the first place!
Your health coach,
Dr. Ryan Hewitt
There once was a young girl who lived on a beautiful farm with her family and everyday she attended to her farm duties, one which included watching over the chicken coop. One of her favorite parts about taking care of the chickens was to tend to the new baby chicks that hatch.
One day, she noticed that there were several new baby chicks that hatched that were huddled under their mother hen, but there was still one egg that hadn’t hatched yet! To her excitement, the unhatched chick started to poke and struggle its way out of its shell. Reactively, the little girl chose to help by gently peeling the shell away and freeing the chick.
Just as the young girl freed the baby chick though, it gasped, fell over and stopped breathing. The girl knew something was wrong so she ran to her mother to tell her what happened. The mother could have scolded the girl for what she did, but instead she chose to teach her an important lesson with caring words. “The baby chick must struggle to free itself from its shell in order to survive sweetheart. If it doesn’t experience that important event then it will never become strong enough to survive”.
This story is meant to illustrate that just like baby chicks, all of us must struggle sometimes so we can build the strength to not only survive, but to thrive. Especially our kids. All to often I see kids that are constantly being bailed out of their struggles by their parents because they can’t stand seeing them suffer. Our initial reaction when a child comes down with a fever is to reach for the fever suppressant. What we have forgotten is how important it is for that child to suffer through a fever in order for their immune system to fully develop and build a robust immunity to future viral infections. When a child gets an ear infection- most of the time without even knowing the problem is even bacterial- we are quick to deliver antibiotics to destroy germs and bacteria. To the child’s disservice, the often bouts of antibiotics destroy healthy gut bacteria too that aid in digestion, vitamin and mineral absorption, immune function, nutrition, and many other beneficial functions. I see mothers that give in to their screaming child that o-so wants that sugar coated sugar flavored sugar water. Then, we wonder why our kids are the SICKEST kids who have EVER walked the planet?
Struggle is a critical experience for everyone, and sometimes it’s for our own good to suffer through the experience because almost always we come out on the other side even stronger than before. So please, comfort your kids, but let them know that it is ok to let their body handle a cold or a fever. Or that it’s ok to be sad every once in a while, or that hard work is a virtue, and failure is only feedback. Because if we miss the incredibly valuable lesson of struggle, we fail to grow and succeed.
Your health coach,