Add These Exercise Tips to Your Cancer Prevention Plan

Man and Woman Exercising

From walking to weightlifting and everything in between, regular exercise is a great way to decrease your risk of cancer while improving your overall health.

Due to its wide-ranging benefits, including healthy weight maintenance, exercise can reduce the risk of 13 specific types of cancer according to recent research by the American Cancer Society.

“It’s so important for everyone to exercise regularly,” says Cari Utendorf, PT, DPT, MBA, CLT-LANA, an oncology rehabilitation specialist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), who emphasizes that working out can benefit current patients as well as those who haven’t been diagnosed. 

“Research has shown that patients with cancer who exercise and have a healthy body weight can reduce their risk of reoccurrence by 20 percent,” she says.

Here are Utendorf’s tips for kicking off an exercise routine the right way and raising your chances of sticking with it for the long haul.

Ready, set, go

Once you’re ready to begin an exercise program, the first step is to “start off slow and gradually increase your intensity level,” Utendorf says, adding that, if an exercise or stretch hurts, that’s a sign to slow down or stop. The “no pain, no gain” cliché is a misnomer that has led to a lot of injuries.

How much?

Utendorf and The American Cancer Society recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week (or a combination of those). For those who are able, walking is a great way to begin.

“Taking the dog out for a walk is a good start, even if it’s only for 10 minutes,” Utendorf says. “You can gradually build from there.”

Strength training

Utendorf also recommends two strength-training sessions a week to maintain and build muscle. For those who are uncomfortable or unable to join a gym, Utendorf suggests a wide range of exercises that can be done at home, either seated in a chair—such as squats, leg lifts and curls—or while lying on a mat.

“Start with a one-pound or two-pound weight, or use a can of soup or beans if you don’t have weights.”

Again, start off slowly and gradually increase the number of repetitions for each strength-training exercise as well as the amount of weight.

Be flexible

Stretching is an important component of any exercise program.

“The goal of stretching is to lengthen the muscles,” Utendorf says. “We’ve learned that holding a stretch for 30 seconds or more is most beneficial.”

For those unaccustomed to stretching, introductory yoga classes can provide easy and educational introductions to proper techniques.

Find your fun

However you choose to get moving, Utendorf stresses the importance of enjoyment as a core component of any successful exercise program.

“You can ride a bike, plant and maintain a garden, play games with your children or grandchildren—it’s important to find something you enjoy doing, otherwise you won’t stick to it.”

She also recommends teaming up to take on a fitness plan, providing extra incentive to make exercise part of your regular routine.

“You can form a walking group or find an exercise buddy, which makes it easier and more fun, and you’ll hold yourself accountable to the other person and exercise more often.”

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