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Preventing Cancer: Invest In Your Fitness, Invest In Your Future

Publication: The Jewish Outlook, Austin

Is Eating More Dangerous Than Smoking?

Not exactly. But it's becoming a close call. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently declared that obesity may soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer. Experts suggest up to 40 percent of several major cancers may be attributed to obesity and lack of physical activity. Currently, more than a third of Americans are obese, and healthcare organizations predict three-fourths of Americans will be overweight or obese within six years.

Oncologist rightly are raising alarms about the link between wight and cancer risk, and are promoting the adoption of a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and making wise choices about what and how much to eat. Unlike many infectious diseases, there's no vaccine for a majority of cancers. Its physiology isn't that simple. But that doesn't mean cancer isn't preventable.

The relationship between weight and cancer prevention is undeniable, yet research shows that one in four Americans have no physical activity or leisure time. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of one's body weight can result in improved health.

It's also important to be vigilant about getting cancer screenings that are recommended for your age, gender, and family history - which you should discuss with your doctor. Just like with your home or car, taking better car of your body requires regular maintenance and check-ups.

Increasing your physical activity and living a prevention-focused, healthy lifestyle is as easy as altering simple daily habits:

Simple Ways to Keep Moving  

  • Always consider taking the stairs.
  • Instead of sending an email, walk over to a person's space for a face-to-face chat. 
  • Do you always eat lunch at your desk? Take advantage of a nearby park and fit in a mid-day walk. You'll enjoy the change of scenery too. 
  • Save money and gas by walking or riding a bike to work. 
  • Walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle while watching your favorite television shows. 

Beyond these basic steps, there are many fun ways to get your heart rate up and break a sweat. If you're lucky, enough to live in a city like Austin, with tons of outdoor activities and great weather, it's easy to find a mix of moderate activities to enjoy. The American Cancer Society recommends adults spend from 75 to 150 minutes a week on moderate intensity activities. 

These types of activities slightly raise your heart rate and breathing, but not enough to break a sweat. This intensity is recommended for people just beginning their journey towards a more active lifestyle. Examples include:

  • Taking advantage of sunny days and Austin's trails by going on leisurely bike rides
  • Tending to your garden 
  • Skipping out on a night in and going dancing with friends 
  • Teeing up a weekend of golfing 
  • Yoga
  • Walking around the block to watch the sunset
  • Horseback riding
When ready, throwing in more vigorous activities to your weekly routine will engage greater portions of your body and trigger faster heart rates and breathing, along with sweating. Consult your physician about the best place for increasing your level of activity. Examples includes:
  • High-intensity aerobics like running, cycling or several minutes on the stair master
  • Jumping rope with your kids
  • Weight training
  • Playing basketball with friends
  • Swimming in Deep Eddy or laps at the local YMCA
Texas Oncology physician and avid cyclist Dr. Russ Hoverman takes his own advice, logging 60-120 miles a week on Austin roads and trails to control his weight. "Cycling not only keeps me fit, it's my quiet time and allows me to release any tension from the week," said Hoverman. "Along with the general health benefits of exercise and those that just make you feel plain good, cycling can help get you closer to an ideal weight which could lower your cancer risk." 

Maintaining Health and Preventing Recurrence

For those already diagnosed with cancer, or survivors of the disease, maintaining a healthy weight is important to prevent recurrence and improve quality of life. Cancer treatment can make exercising and eating right challenging - how you feel and how things taste can change - but it's important to be mindful of these challenges and face them head on.

In Austin, Texas Oncology physician Debra Patt conducted a nationwide research project that validated this problem. With access to the national database of cancer cases from The US Oncology Network, Dr. Patt worked with researchers to review case records of 8,500 chemotherapy patients, comparing three years of follow-up records of patients who had received chemotherapy treatment against those who had not.

The results revealed that women who have had chemotherapy are nearly twice as likely to experience an unhealthy increase in BMI (body mass index) - i.e. gaining 10 to 15 pounds. After treatment, weight gain is a major concern because it is a risk factor for recurrence - highlighting the importance of providing patients (and their caregivers) with clear guidance on the risks they face as cancer survivors.

Through Texas Oncology's Survivorship Program, patients receive the encouragement and emotional support needed to begin their "new normal", as well as personalized plans for follow-up care, including follow-up counseling, and healthy living and wellness recommendations that emphasize diet and exercise.

The start of a new year is a time of reflection, taking stock, and looking ahead. It brings excitement and the opportunity to make a renewed commitment to investing in your health and in your future.

Texas Oncology
1.888.864.ICAN (4226)

This story originally appeared in The Jewish Outlook.

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