Fighting cancer with exercise

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 16, 2008 4:55:42 PM PDT
Each year, more than one million people begin the fight against cancer. The tools we have are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But many are also finding help from an old stand-by: exercise. We know that exercise works in many ways to keep us healthy. But now, a lot of people in the cancer-fighting community are looking at exercise for the benefits it offers cancer patients. One program, started at Stanford University, is now spreading around the country.

They're all people with different cancers, now undergoing chemo or radiation. They follow the hour spent fighting cancer on exercise machines.

The participants at this program at the Ridgewood, New Jersey, YMCA are all in different stages of their battle with the disease.

Terry Tripoli had two surgeries this spring for breast cancer.

"I'm about two and a half weeks into seven weeks for radiation, and I started the Tamoxifen they will want me to take, a pill a day for five years," she said.

Joyce Speciale is trying to regain strength and flexibility after lots of treatments.

"By the time I found out I had breast cancer, it had already spread to my bones," she said. "I fractured my spine."

Program director Carol Livingstone has now run several 12-week programs for cancer patients and survivors.

"They were very intimidated coming in seeing the machines," she said. "And their energy level was low, but by the end of the program, they were thrilled."

Husband and wife team Lorraine and Lenny Belmonte were diagnosed within months of each other, she with breast cancer, he with colon cancer.

They say it is helpful to give them energy, but that they take it one day at a time.

The studies on the effects of exercise on cancer are few, but they show benefit.

Scientists at Rutgers have just published a paper with the hypothesis that exercise results in brain hormones that reduce stress and promote the immune functions that control tumor growth.

It is a hypothesis that programs like this one from Stanford may one day help prove.

"They've been keeping track of everyone who has participated, and they do follow up every six months up to, I think, two years," Livingstone said.

The goal is to have the cancer patients continue the exercise program on their own after 12 weeks. The program, called "Living Strong, Living Well," also provides the participants a lot of support.

The way it got started was that one member heard about it in California and asked Ridgewood if they had it here. The Ridgewood YMCA didn't, but set out to get it started.

Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: An American Cancer Society Guide for Informed Choices" can be found online by clicking here.

For more on the Ridgewood program, click here.

For more on the Rutgers research, click here.

For more information on the Stanford research, click here.

STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg