Walk away from colorectal cancer: Exercise can lower risk

In January 2017, researchers reported that exercise is associated with a lower risk of death from metastatic colorectal cancer. Metastatic colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum that has spread to other areas of the body. This study found people who were physically active for four or more hours per week reduced their risk by 20 percent. People who exercised for at least five hours per week lowered their risk by 25 percent.  

These results reinforce other data researchers have collected on how exercise affects the risk of colorectal cancer. Though we don’t fully understand why, exercise plays a role in the development of colorectal cancer—for people who may be at risk for the disease, people who already have it and people who have been treated for it.

Who’s at risk for colorectal cancer?

Several lifestyle factors can increase the risk for colorectal cancer, including:

  • Diets high in red meat, such as beef and pork
  • Diets high in processed meats, such as hot dogs and bologna
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Obesity, particularly excess belly fat
  • Smoking

Other factors can also increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. These include:  

  • A history of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps (growths in the colon)
  • Being African-American
  • Having type 2 diabetes

Colorectal cancer tends to affect people in older age groups. That’s why we recommend people over 50 get a colonoscopy on a regular basis to lower their risk for colorectal cancer. Your doctor may recommend starting earlier if you have one or more of the above risk factors. For instance, we recommend African-Americans start getting regular colonoscopies at age 45. Though there are other tests available to screen for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy is still the best option for finding and treating the disease as early as possible. 

Getting active to stay healthy

As we age, we tend to be less active and at higher risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes, which can further limit our activity levels. But even a little exercise every week can lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Studies cited by the National Cancer Institute have found adults who increase their physical activity can reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by 30 to 40 percent compared to people who don’t exercise. That’s on top of the benefit researchers have found exercise has in people whose cancer has spread.  

Modest amounts of moderate exercise can help. I tell patients that if they’re breaking a sweat for about 20 minutes at a time two to three times a week, that seems to be enough. Walking is a great way to do this. Some other examples of moderate exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:

  • Aerobics
  • Biking
  • Climbing stairs or using a stair climber
  • Dancing
  • Playing basketball
  • Swimming
  • Yoga 

Research shows that people don’t have to do intense exercises to get these survival benefits. When it comes to lowering your risk of colorectal cancer, just getting up and doing something is important. If you can do more, that’s great! If you can’t, do what you can. Just make sure you’re doing something. And talk to your doctor about starting any new exercise plan, especially if you have conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or other serious conditions.

Exercise even helps after a patient has had surgery to treat colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society notes that people who exercise regularly after being treated for colorectal cancer have a lower chance of the disease coming back, as well as a lower chance of dying from the disease. In addition, exercise has been linked to an improved quality of life and less fatigue after colorectal surgery. If you’re starting or resuming an exercise routine after colorectal surgery, be sure to talk to your doctor beforehand about the types of exercise you can do safely. 

Controlling your colon cancer risk

I realize that getting active is easier for some people than others. By the time people are in their 60s and 70s, if they haven’t exercised regularly before, making that sort of lifestyle change can be tough. But I encourage my patients to do what they can to lower their risk for colorectal cancer. I let them know that even little changes in their activities or walking just a little bit can benefit them in the long term.  

Older adults who have never exercised before may not know where to start. It can be intimidating to walk into the local gym and get started on a fitness plan. The National Institute on Aging has examples of sample exercises for older adults based on four key fitness areas: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Your doctor can also provide guidance on the types and amount of exercise you should do.  

And exercise isn’t the only thing I advise people do to lower their risk. Other ways you may be able to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer include:

Take the first step

We need more research in this area of medicine to find out exactly why exercise lowers the risk of death from colorectal cancer and the risk of developing it in the first place. For now, though, the data show a clear link between the disease and activity levels.

 You don’t have to live at the gym or train for marathons to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Take a brisk walk around the block once a day, or watch your favorite TV show while you walk on the treadmill. Every step is one you’re taking to live a healthier, more active life—and one free from colorectal cancer. 

Healthy Habits for a Healthy Pregnancy

Managing Gestational Diabetes Yields Long-Term Benefits

Christine Leonard is the proud mother of three sons. With each child, she developed gestational diabetes during her pregnancy, which meant her blood sugar levels were too high. For Christine, she knew it was critical to eat right, exercise and carefully monitor her condition to have a healthy pregnancy.

“Each time, I was diagnosed early,” says Christine. “I was just very diligent about everything and made some lifestyle modifications."

Even after Christine delivered, it was important for her to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and here's why:  It is estimated that up to 10 percent of women with gestational diabetes are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes soon after delivery. Over 10 years, the risk can increase up to 50 percent.  But the risks can be mitigated if preventative screenings are scheduled. Yet, too many women are skipping the required postpartum glucose tolerance test, usually given to women six to 12 weeks after they’ve delivered. Recent studies show that up to 50 percent of patients do not show up for this important test.  The low compliance is likely because too many women are overwhelmed after bringing home a newborn baby and simply forget.

 Dr. Sara Iqbal, a high-risk obstetrician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center says, “Educating the patient and providing test reminders is essential in order to improve the rate of testing postpartum."

During her pregnancy, Christine followed the sound advice she received from Dr. Iqbal and to this day remains vigilant about her dietary changes.

“She was my model patient as she made the lifestyle changes that I asked,” says Dr. Iqbal. “This is very important because having gestational diabetes puts her at high-risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.”

Dr. Iqbal advises patients to:

  • Watch food portions and caloric intake
  • Avoid gaining too much weight as obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes
  • Continue to exercise
  • Follow up for the postpartum glucose tolerance test
  • Have your blood sugar levels tested every one to three years, depending on the glucose tolerance test results

“When I delivered my baby, the diabetes went away soon after, but I will be really aggressive about monitoring for the rest of my life,” says Christine.

From past experience, Christine knows that diabetes is easy to treat when caught early, before complications can occur, and most important, understands that type 2 diabetes can be prevented by simple, easily applicable lifestyle modifications. 

 

 

Have any questions?

We are here to help! If you have any questions about your pregnancy or would like to speak with a member of our Women's and Infants Services team call MedStar Washington Hospital Center at 202-877-3627.

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29 Things You Should Do for a Healthy Heart

You’re heard it many times before -- follow a healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart. Sounds simple, right?  But it’s not always so easy to pull off. A heart healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk for heart disease by as much as 80%!  But what is a “heart healthy lifestyle”?  It’s a commitment to many habits in our daily lives centered on our activity, diets, mindset and awareness.  There is no one “magic” thing. When lifestyle isn’t enough, talk with your doctor to set goals you can realistically achieve, such as losing weight or lowering your cholesterol or blood pressure levels. Sometimes, it takes medications that can be very helpful to optimizing your heart risk.

So, commit to making the many small lifestyle changes that make a healthy heart a snap! The key to success is to make small changes in many areas. No matter what you do, remember to take it day by day, and work to sustain your gains.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled 29 heart health tips. Knowledge is power!  Read on to find out what you can do to keep your heart healthy. Only you can love your heart. So start today!

1. Make time for exercise: Exercising 30 to 60 minutes on most days will cut your heart risk in half.

2. Know your heart disease risk: Calculate your risk by plugging your numbers into an online calculator.

3. Never ignore your chest pain:  Pain can be felt anywhere in the chest area, arms, your back and neck.

4. Check your blood pressure: Let the healthy blood pressure number be below 140/90. Both numbers matter!

5. No smoking: Don’t smoke, and ask your loved ones to quit.

6. Aspirin: Should you take aspirin? If you have heart disease, yes! If you don’t have heart disease, then maybe not! Ask your doctor.

7. Moderate exercise: How do you know whether you are exercising moderately? You should able to carry on a light conversation

8. Stress: Is it bad for your heart? Yes, sustained stress is, no matter the source. Learn to control your stress to prevent heart disease.

9. Second hand smoke is dangerous! Public smoking bans in the community have reduced heart attack risk by 20%.

10. Sex: Is your heart healthy enough for sex? Sex has a “heart workload” like climbing two flights of stairs.

11. Dark chocolate: Give your loved ones chocolate as a gift on Valentine’s day! Regular chocolate eaters have less heart and stroke risk!

12. Order wine with your dinner! Moderate intake is associated with lower heart risk. (Consume wisely!)

13. Red or white wine? Is one better for your heart? Wine, beer or spirits all show a similar relationship to lower heart risk.

14. The “Mediterranean diet” is the most heart healthy way to eat. Studies show this diet reduces heart attack risk up to 30%.

15. Mediterranean diet = veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, olive oil, poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt and wine.

16. Take your heart meds fully and faithfully! It’s the only way to get the full benefit of the treatments!

17. Stairs burn twice as many calories as walking. Regular stair climbing reduces your risk of premature death by 15%!

18. The quantified self. Keep moving! Steps per day: Very active >10,000, active >7500, sedentary <5000.

19. Fish eaters have less heart disease! Think about fish as a first choice when eating out- let somebody else do the cooking!

20. Did you know that people who are optimistic have less heart disease? See the bright side- it is truly good for your heart!

21. If you snore, tell your doctor. Snoring can be treated, and could signal risks for your blood pressure and heart rhythm.

22. Want to really know your risk of heart attack? Get a calcium scan of your heart. Accurate, safe, and costs less than dinner for 2!

23. Do you know CPR? Simple! Learn it here and double somebody’s chance of surviving cardiac arrest. http://www.cpr.heart.org

24. Ditch the soda and energy drinks. Please.

25. Coffee lover? For your heart’s sake, it is OK! (But, skip the donut!)

26. Like music? So does your heart! Music listening lowers your heart rate, and blood pressure!

27. Are statin cholesterol drugs safe? For most patients, yes! Unfortunately, over the counter supplements aren’t very helpful.

28. Heart attack or stroke symptoms? Don’t delay! Call 911 immediately. Minutes matter to save lives!

29. Taking vitamins or other supplements for heart disease risk? Be careful- few have little, if any, proven benefit.

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about heart health or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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