Decades of extensive research has consistently shown that physical activity is good for our health. It is commonly accepted that, relative to our palaeolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors, modern-day humans live comparably (and increasingly) sedentary lifestyles due to our use of modern agriculture, industry, and technology. Whilst these advances have certainly come with many benefits, they have – in the grand scheme of things – happened relatively quickly, meaning that evolutionarily speaking, our genome is still broadly oriented toward tiring out prey with long chases across the savannah; or climbing through dense jungle to find fruit or nuts. We know that modern sedentary behaviour can predispose us to physiological dysfunction and make us vulnerable to disease, but we are still learning much about this complex area. Recently a large body of accumulated research has shifted the paradigm of thinking in a disease area which has historically, and tragically, proven to be one of modern medicine’s most difficult challenges – cancer. Exercise oncology research is showing that exercise can not only be preventative for some cancers; but is also pushing the boundaries of thinking in post-diagnosis oncology care. Can exercise really fight cancer?
First, a necessary caveat. Cancer is not one single disease, but a catch-all term for hundreds of different types of genetic dysregulation in which cells become malignant (broadly speaking: the cells do not die when they are supposed to, evade the immune system, and begin to multiply and invade healthy tissue). So, it’s important to note that all of these different cancers behave differently; some are more vulnerable to certain therapies or interventions than others. Furthermore, every patient differs in terms of their clinical profile and potential response to a given therapy. Scientific findings in the cancer care domain should always be understood through these caveats.