Strength training seems to pop up in the news on a near weekly basis now, and this week’s entry will buoy the hopes of millions. Recent studies released in past weeks have revealed big benefits of strength training in breast cancer survivors. The news arrives with perfect timing in October, which is breast cancer awareness month.
With 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today, and reaching a five-year 90% survival rate, many women deal with post-cancer, adverse side effects. Everything from drugs, to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy negatively influence health during recovery. The biggest concerns in survivors are increases in fat mass, and increased loss of muscle mass and bone density.
The rapid decline in bone density becomes particularly worrisome as this leads to fractures, osteoporosis, along with decreases in strength and physical functioning. The bucket of adversities can lead to weight gain and obesity, lowering survival rates. Ultimately the side effects can lower quality of life while increasing odds of chronic disease and disability.
In an article published by The Conversation it was found that:
“In our three-month and six-month intervention studies using resistance machines for both the upper body and lower body, we found about a 25 percent improvement in both upper and lower body strength. Physical function and quality of life also improved, with no adverse effects on lymphedema, or swelling that can occur from damage to the lymph nodes, with either the low- or high-intensity resistance training. Even the women who participated in high-intensity resistance training tolerated it well and experienced the added benefit of increasing muscle mass in both the upper and lower body after the three months of training.”
Although the study funded by the National Strength and Conditioning Association didn’t find that strength training increased bone mineral density, it did find that bone mineral density levels were maintained, which is a first. In a related study looking at functional impact training and yin yoga, cancer survivors were found to improve not only their “lower-body strength, physical function and quality of life” but also increased their upper-body strength. The results and benefits of strength training in breast cancer survivors are promising to say the least.
In a pair of entirely unrelated studies, researchers in France have also discovered potent benefits of strength training and exercise for cancer patients. Over 100 participants with breast cancer or metastatic disease participated in the study by conducting a 60-minute strength training session and aerobic exercise class twice a week. The research:
“…found that this significantly reduced both pain and fatigue scores at three and six months. Overall, the fatigue scores fell from 3.1 at the baseline to 2.1 after six months, while pain score fell from three to 1.9 over the same period. Also tied to the reduction of pain was significant reductions in body fat, while lean body mass remained stable.”
The research which was presented at a conference in Munich could have implications on the health insurance industry, as providers may eventually be obliged to pay for fitness and strength training programs for cancer patients. Strength training in combination with aerobic exercise also has good potential to prevent breast cancer and other forms of cancer.
Physical activity decreases inflammation, boosts the immune system and stimulates a loss in body fat, all of which are associated with lowered breast cancer risk. According to this article:
“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidized by government. It would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.”
The same article also provides strength training and exercise recommendations for cancer patients by The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia. In support of the preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of breast cancer, Dr. Rosmond Adams shares his list of lifestyle changes to guard against the disease.
These recent findings don’t come as a surprise coming on the heels of previous research finding that strength training increases longevity. Apparently, the news is traveling fast. Some great people in Biloxi, MS organized a charity fundraising event for breast cancer by hosting a costumed deadlifting event at Iron Works Gym. Another notable and awesome charity organization for breast cancer is Barbells for Boobs.
If you, anyone in your family or any of your friends are dealing with breast cancer or any other form, we wish you all the strength in the universe to win the battle. I have a cousin who is a brain cancer survivor and my mom passed away from cancer. I empathize with the immense pain and suffering that cancer puts everyone through.