Every year, there are 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed globally and diagnoses are expected to increase by 70% in the next 20 years. These staggering statistics highlight just how pervasive cancer is in our society; everyone has a friend, loved one or colleague affected by cancer. On the bright side, your genetics accounts for only 5-10% of your actual cancer risk, whereas diet, exercise, and lifestyle factors impact the overwhelming majority of your cancer protection. So, what can you start doing today to help upgrade your cancer protection?
Building Strength For Health
Strength is an essential attribute for healthy living. Lean muscle mass is a very active metabolic and immune tissue that promotes health and vitality, as well as protecting against chronic degenerative conditions like cancer. It’s well established in the medical literature that exercise helps to reduce the incidence of cancers and the mortality rates associated with cancers.1 That’s right, increasing your activity levels or simply “moving more” is a powerful way to protect yourself against cancer. In fact, if you’re stuck at your desk all day, the research shows a dose-response association between how much you sit during the day and mortality from all causes and states that doctors should actively “discourage sitting for extended periods of time”.2 In fact, a review study of almost one million people showed simply adding more non-vigorous exercise (i.e. more walking) into your daily regime can lower your risk of death from chronic disease by 19%.3
Strength & Cancer
How does strength and lean muscle fit into this equation? A new study attempted to isolate the potential benefits of improving strength - independent of other variables like body composition, aerobic fitness, functional assessments - and its effects on cancer. Thirty-nine studies examining 7 different types of cancers and found that muscular strength was the only marker that consistently improved in all cancer survivors.4 That’s right, simply building strength is one of the best ways to protect yourself against many cancers.
The good news is you don’t need to head to a gym to start getting stronger (although it is a great place to achieve that goals as well!). Simply performing bodyweight movements is a great way to reap all the benefits of building lean muscle. Start by performing a squat. Grab your desk or kitchen table chair and place it behind you (preferably against a wall or anywhere where you can be sure it won’t slip out from underneath you). Next follow these simple steps;
- Stand in front of the chair and squat down to sit in the chair.
- Pause for 1 second, and then stand up again.
- Repeat this for 5-10 repetitions (reps), and then rest for 60 seconds.
- Perform 1-3 sets or rounds of the 5-10 repetitions.
Congratulations, you just performed anywhere from 15-30 squats. Every week add a few reps until you get up to 20-25 total. Leg movements like squats activate the biggest and strongest muscles in your body – gluteus, hamstrings, quads, low back – that help to trigger the hormonal response needed to build muscle. As you become more comfortable, you can add more weight. If you have a history of injuries or find a chair is too low for you, then simply put some books on the chair to reduce the range of motion (i.e. how deeply you squat) and “tap” the books with your backside, rather than sitting completely.
Increase your movement to build strength and protect yourself from chronic diseases like cancer. No drug or supplement in the world can improve your health, wellness and vitality like movement. It’s that simple… Get started today and feel the difference.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSC, CSCS
Want to learn more? Listen to movement expert Dr. Charlie Weingroff PhD in Episode #18 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast.
1) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1996). Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved June 26, 2009,
2) Katzmarzyk P et al. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):998-1005.
3) Woodock J et al. Non-vigorous physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Int. J. Epidemiol. (2011) 40 (1): 121-138.
4) Hansen E et al. The Independent Effects of Strength Training in Cancer Survivors: a Systematic Review. Current Oncology Reports May 2016, 18:31.