The importance of exercise and adequate sleep can never be overemphasised. In fact, doctors are now stressing that they are critical to the overall recovery of cancer patients.
Delivering a presentation on the topic Make Your Body Less Conducive to Cancer, Radiation Oncologist Dr Niraj Mehta told a recent women’s health medical conference that regular exercise and adequate sleep are among the five pillars of functional medicine that are critical in innovative oncology.
“Daily movement in and of itself, regardless of weight, size, saves lives,” he said, describing excessive sitting as “a lethal activity”.
“Twenty to 40 per cent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and dying from breast cancer for survivors who exercise three plus hours per week versus those that (do) less than one hour per week,” Dr Mehta told an audience of mostly women.
He added: Physical inactivity, of course, is a global health issue. It’s probably the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. So the inactivity is a bigger greater risk than being overweight or even obese.”
According to the cancer specialist, exercise could consist any kind of movement, as long as the patient is engaging in some form of physical activity.
“When I think of exercise, I think of a variety of different things. We’re not just locked down to one specific thing. And that’s the reality. We have dance, we have … kids playing, we have all kinds of different activities out there. So let’s not get locked down into some idea that you have to be in a gym in a certain way, in a certain time period to do a certain thing.
“When we do movement, we’re also addressing another major pillar of functional medicine, which is stress reduction. We’re trying to get people to understand that exercise is not something you have to get stressed out about,” he said.
“An equally important aspect of wellbeing which is very often overlooked, is adequate sleep,” Dr Mehta said. “We are sleeping less, and sometimes we’re proud… That’s not cool. It never was cool.”
“Why is it not cool? There are very severe sleep deprivation effects on the brain. On attention. On memory. On executive functions. You reduce your ability to concentrate. There’s a certain degree of arrogance at some point, of ignoring the need for sleep. Not just even arrogance but at some point a little bit of ‘I can’t do it, it’s not possible, or I don’t need it.”
He outlined other adverse effects of not getting adequate sleep, which health care providers estimate should be a maximum of eight hours per night.
“Less than six to seven hours of sleep in general … can really stimulate angiogenesis, which is the growth of abnormal blood vessels. It can actually decrease your immune function, and increase the production of growth factors responsible for stimulating tumours.
“And (it) will also increase free radicals, which are actually oxygen and sometimes the electron gets knocked off and all of a sudden, these are very, very active and can do a lot of damage to your normal cells,” Dr Mehta stated.
He encouraged cancer patients to focus on their overall wellbeing, rather than only one aspect of recovery.