Running helps to keep cancer at bay – Medical oncologist Dr Ooi Wei Seong

Runners, here is some good news for you – running on a regular basis, helps to keep cancer at bay.

Cancer is a leading cause for death worldwide

Running helps to keep cancer at bay.

Running helps to keep cancer at bay.

A leading cause of death worldwide, cancer accounted for 8.2 million deaths around the world in 2012.

Said  Dr Ooi Wei Seong, 41, a Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Harley Street Heart and Cancer Centre, “Cancer generally kills a person by invading into adjacent organs and the liver, lungs and brain are the ones where this is the most common. These are vital organs for our survival and if the cancer has affected them, for example the liver, to such an extent where it can no longer function, then the body cannot be sustained and the person dies.”

On average the life span of a cancer patient after diagnosis, is largely based on the stage that the cancer had been caught. Said the oncologist, “Early stage cancers, once treated, means that the patient is cured. A small proportion may have a cancer recurrence some years later, but advanced cancers that have spread to other organs cannot be cured, in most cases.”

He added, “But these are still treatable to prolong life and minimise the impact on quality of life. And survival is getting longer these days as more drugs are being developed and approved for treatment.”

Exercise keeps cancers at bay

But if you exercise regularly, then this can keep certain cancers at bay according to the doctor. Said Dr Ooi, “It has been shown that exercise decreases the risk of colon, breast, endometrial (womb) and lung cancer. The evidence is stronger for colon and breast cancer. It has been proven that exercise helps, due to the beneficial effects on hormonal regulation, improving immune system and decreasing obesity which, in itself, is a risk factor for cancer.”

Added the oncologist, “Running in itself, is an aerobic exercise which is good if done as much as a person can tolerate and not beyond. In addition it improves the cardiovascular system. I don’t think that too much running is bad, but I think that running too hard suddenly may push someone’s heart beyond the normal limit, especially in those who are not conditioned over time, to do so.”

According to Dr Ooi Wei Seong, running decreases the risk of certain cancers.

According to Dr Ooi Wei Seong, running decreases the risk of certain cancers due to the benefits of hormone regulation.

To set a good example for his patients, Dr Ooi himself does regular exercise too – mainly cycling and trail running at MacRitchie.

Regular exercise benefits cancer patients too

For cancer patients, regular exercise is also beneficial, in terms of helping to keep their cancer at bay. Said Dr Ooi, “Exercise generally improves the feeling of well-being for the cancer patients. It helps maintain the physical abilities and prevents muscle wasting due to inactivity.”

He continued, “It also improves blood flow and lowers the risk of blood clots. Additionally, patients feel that they are less dependent on others, if they are fitter, which, in turn, will improve their self-esteem and lessen the risk of anxiety and depression.”

Though cancer patients may often feel fatigued due to the nature of their treatment, Dr Ooi advises them to exercise within their tolerance levels. He said, “Generally we advise them to do light to moderate exercises such as brisk walking to begin with. Go slow at first and start with at least 10 minutes’ duration.”

Light exercises are good for cancer patients to start off with. [Photo from Bill Branson acquired from National Cancer Institute]

Light exercises are good for cancer patients to start off with.
[Photo from Bill Branson acquired from National Cancer Institute]

He continued, “This can be built up over time as exercise tolerance increases. It is also important to note any side effects from treatment such as numbness, because this will affect the choice of exercise. In this case, maybe a stationary bike will be better than a treadmill. I prefer patients to exercise out in fresh air but not in crowded places. And avoid heavy weights.”

Survivors of cancer should continue to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle

Cancer survivors should also continue to adopt an active lifestyle. [Photo from Just Run Lah]

Cancer survivors should also continue to adopt an active lifestyle.
[Photo from Just Run Lah]

And cancer survivors, once their battle with the disease is over, should continue to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle to minimise the recurrence of their cancer, according to the oncologist.

Explained Dr Ooi, “This again, is helped through the regulation of good and bad chemical signals in our body and improvement in our body immune system. I have patients who are in a rowing team, patients who go hiking overseas and also those who just take up brisk walking, qi gong or tai chi. An added benefit is that their bones will get stronger to minimise osteoporosis as they get older, too.”

Click here for Dr Ooi’s tips on the haze

Click here for Ironman athlete and oncologist Dr Joanna Lin’s exercise tips.

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