Embracing Lifestyle Medicine
In the realm of integrative cancer care, the concept of lifestyle medicine has gained significant recognition for its powerful impact on overall health and well-being. While conventional cancer treatments focus on targeting cancer cells, lifestyle medicine takes a holistic approach, recognising the vital role of lifestyle factors in cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship. With the combination of integrative care, the main goal is to begin a shift in the body’s biochemistry that will have long-term benefits to overall quality of life and treatment outcomes.
In this article, we’ll explore the importance of lifestyle medicine in integrative cancer care and how it empowers individuals to actively participate in taking back control of their health and wellbeing.
Lifestyle medicine emphasises the importance of physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight to promote overall well-being and reduce cancer risk. Engaging in regular exercise not only maintains mobility and physical fitness, but also helps manage treatment-related side effects such as fatigue and mood changes. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and improve treatment outcomes. By engaging in regular physical activity, this helps to shift the body’s chemistry by improving immune function, improving blood glucose regulation and reducing fatigue. Interestingly, in a clinical trial conducted by Spei et al (2019) investigating physical activity on breast cancer survivorship found that women who engaged in physical activity had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality, death from breast cancer and a lower risk of recurrence. Similarly, in a study conducted by Friedenreich et al (2016) looked at physical activity in prostate cancer and found that the men that in engaged in regular physical activity had a lower association with prostate cancer specific mortality. They also found that sustained exercise post-diagnosis was also associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality. This information is of vital importance as its demonstrating the effect that regular exercise can have in the world of oncology. If you don’t know how to start, then keep it simple - go for walks, try a yoga class or use your body weight for resistance training. If that still sounds too daunting, it may be of benefit to work with an exercise physiologist who can tailor an exercise routine for your specific needs. Keep an eye on MIOG social media (@miog_community) for upcoming workshops such as Yin yoga and more.
Prioritise your sleep:
Quality sleep plays a vital role in healing and restoration, and we cannot stress enough the importance of prioritising sleep hygiene, developing consistent sleep routines, and creating a peaceful sleep environment. Adequate sleep supports cellular repair and improves overall well-being. We also know sleep has a great impact on immune function, especially when it comes to creating new white blood cells that protect the body. A 2015 clinical trial conducted by the Australasian Sleep Association found that men and women aged 18-55 who slept less than 5 hours, or between 5-6 hours were at greater risk of developing a cold compared to men and women who slept 7 or more hours per night (Prather et al., 2015). Aiming for 7-8 hours of restorative sleep each night should be a goal for most of us, and if you are currently falling short, here are 3 basic tips to start incorporating into your routine: Create a calming bedtime routine, minimise electronic device use before bed, and ensure your sleep environment is cool and comfortable is a good place to start. Another great way to prepare the body for sleep includes engaging in a stress reducing activity (such as meditation or deep breathing exercises) or having a calming herbal tea. And if your sleep is disrupted by pain, hot flushes or other treatment related side effects, speak to your Integrative practitioner about how you can intervene. With better quality sleep we can support our immune function and reap short- and long-term benefits.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment can take a toll on one's emotional well-being. There is a well recognised impact of stress, anxiety, and depression on the immune system and overall health. Integrative care incorporates strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, and stress management techniques to support emotional well-being. These practices help reduce stress hormone levels, promote relaxation, and enhance resilience, allowing individuals to cope with the challenges of cancer more effectively. Practicing stress reduction techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), meditation, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation can have profound effects on our biology. This may sound too good to be true, but the main takeaway for this technique is consistency. We want to have a continual effort to cause a shift in our body that is going to have long-term effects for our health and wellbeing. We know that chronic stress weakens the immune system, so it's essential to prioritise self-care to enhance immune function. Interestingly, the journal of Brain, Behaviour and Immunity found that the use of MBSR in breast cancer patients over an 8-week period was able to reduce markers of inflammation and increase natural killer cell activity (our cancer fighting cells) (Janusek et al., 2019). This is an astounding discovery and shows great promise of how the power of the mind can greatly affect immunity on a cellular level. Again, keep an eye on MIOG social media (@miog_community) as we often run workshops to support stress reduction, such as Yin and Pin, meditation classes and more.
How to make these things a priority
Unfortunately for most, things like exercise, meditation and sleep are the first things to fall by the wayside when life gets busy. However it is in those busy times where these small amounts of self care can have the most impact. Here are some tips to ensure you can maintain consistency:
- Realise that looking after yourself is at the top of your priorities list. Are you able to draw boundaries elsewhere, say no to extra commitments, or adjust your pressures at work? Are there changes at home you can make to free up small amounts of time here and there?
- When you are busy, don't drop the activity, just reduce the length. You don't necessarily need to meditate for 20 minutes, or exercise for an hour. Short amounts of time are also helpful. For example: try a 5 minute mini meditation while you are on the train, or 5 minutes of deep breathing before bed. If you can't make it to the gym, try doing a 15 minute walk at lunchtime, or a 15 minute stretching session while watching TV.
- Change your inner narrative. Rather thank feeling like you "have to" move your body, or "should" meditate, reframe it as "I get to move my body", or "I enjoy meditating". By shifting the attitude from "have to" and "should", to "I want to", this frames the activity in a positive light, a chosen option not a chore.
- Lower your expectations (of others, and importantly of yourself). As mentioned above, small amounts of intervention are better than nothing. The interventions we recommend don't need to be perfect, they just need to be consistent. And remember, everything is a work in progress. Be kind to yourself.
Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4968. PMID: 26118561; PMCID: PMC4531403.
Janusek L, Tell D, Mathews HL. Mindfulness based stress reduction provides psychological benefit and restores immune function of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer: A randomized trial with active control. Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Aug;80:358-373. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.04.012. Epub 2019 Apr 3. PMID: 30953776.
Friedenreich, C. M., Wang, Q., Neilson, H. K., Kopciuk, K. A., McGregor, S. E., & Courneya, K. S. (2016). Physical activity and survival after prostate cancer. European urology, 70(4), 576-585.
Spei, M. E., Samoli, E., Bravi, F., La Vecchia, C., Bamia, C., & Benetou, V. (2019). Physical activity in breast cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis on overall and breast cancer survival. The Breast, 44, 144-152.