Building Strength to Fight Cancer

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it” – Plato (427-347 BC)

We all know that eating right and exercising are very important parts of life.  So important, that we should never stop doing them.  Your health can become at risk because of it.  But, it’s still hard to come across the idea that exercise can be and in fact is, medicine in itself, especially against deadly illnesses like cancer.

Yes, cancer.

Exercise plays a crucial role in combating cancer.

You’re probably thinking, “That’s really far-fetched.”  How can exercise compare to frightening radiation and chemotherapy?

Actually not just exercise but specifically strength raining plays a huge role in fighting cancer.

Helps in recovery from medical cancer treatments

Strength training can preserve the structural integrity of the body, leading to a better quality of life during heavy treatment.  A 2013 study by Hanson, Sheaff, Sood, Ma, Francis, Goldberg, and Hurley exemplifies this point.  A group of prostate cancer patients went through a very hard form of therapy called androgen deprivation (ADT).

Basically this therapy killed off all of their testosterone producing receptors to try and prevent the further growth of the cancer.  Usually this treatment leaves people feeling completely exhausted and depleted.  At the same time they went through a rigorous strength training program for twelve weeks.

What were the findings?

Astoundingly, even with the almost-complete absence of testosterone, patients were still able to gain:

  • 38% decrease in fatigue perception,
  • 110% increase in muscular endurance, and a
  • 20% increase in functional performance at the end of the study period with strength training.

Yup, you read that right.

Even without most of their testosterone, these men were able to see increases in performance and fatigue management, with the use of regular strength training.

Another benefit of strength training is how well it can stimulate our immune system, along with improving lean body mass (the kind without fat).

Why are these things important to fighting cancer?

Well, we know that a better immune system will obviously mean a better means of fighting things such as free radicals and many foreign substances that can negatively alter cell replication, leading to the onset of cancer.

But how is lean body mass important?

It’s a cancer predictor.

A 2009 Swedish study on muscular strength and fat tissue was done in order to find if these factors were predictors of adulthood cancer mortality in men.  It was found that, ‘Higher levels of muscular strength are associated with lower cancer mortality risk in men….’ Through this ability to enable the body to better combat cancerous cells, strength training aids the body in the fight against this deadly disease.

Psychological benefits

Your mental strength takes a huge toll when you face huge adversity.  They say that the body can only go as far as the mind wills it.  Even if your body can push further, if your mind quits, than so too will your body.

It’s the same thing with fighting a hard-hitting disease like cancer.  That’s why the way that strength training can improve the outlook of cancer patients is crucial to understand.

In a study by Ohira, Schmitz, Ahmed, and Yee the effects of weight training on quality of life in recent breast cancer survivors showed that over a period of six months twice-a-week, regular, and vigorous, resistance training, the 86 cancer survivors in the study experienced an increased quality of life through improvements in body composition and strength.

Patients felt that the resistance training improved their self-confidence strength, speed, endurance, body-aches, appearance, and sleep quality.  Comments on progress from some patients included:

“I can open jars by myself now,”

“I feel confident to move heavier things around the house,”

“I have more energy than I have ever had,”

“I am trying new activities.”

They felt emancipated from their illness.

These cancer survivors felt mentally empowered because they had become physically more powerful.  Their improvement in quality of life was as a result of progress made in strength training.

So next time you think about skipping out on your strength training, realize that it plays a greater role in your overall health than you thought.  It’s not just about building ‘huge guns’ and an awesome physique (insert ‘suns out, guns out’ quote).  Rather its benefits play a more holistic role in improved physical performance and combating major illnesses.


Hanson, E. D., A. K. Sheaff, S. Sood, L. Ma, J. D. Francis, A. P. Goldberg, and B. F. Hurley. “Strength Training Induces Muscle Hypertrophy and Functional Gains in Black Prostate Cancer Patients Despite Androgen Deprivation Therapy.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences68.4 (2013): 490-98. Web.

Ohira, T,, K. H. Schmitz, R. L. Ahmed, and D. Yee. “Effects of Weight Training on Quality of Life in Recent Breast Cancer Survivors: The Weight Training for Breast Cancer Survivors (WTBS) Study.” Cancer 9th ser. 1013.106 (2006): 2076-083. PubMed. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Ruiz, J. R., X. Sui, F. Lobelo, D.-C. Lee, J. R. Morrow, A. W. Jackson, J. R. Hebert, C. E. Matthews, M. Sjostrom, and S. N. Blair. “Muscular Strength and Adiposity as Predictors of Adulthood Cancer Mortality in Men.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 18.5 (2009): 1468-476. Web.


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