There’s a lot of buzz around exercise as a preventative medicine in order to promote better health and wellness. The benefits of including some level of physical activity in your life is almost limitless in terms of its health benefits. But did you know that including physical activity directly kills cancer cells? Although best included as part of an overall anti cancer approach, physical activity holds the capability to kill cancer cells independently of any other anti cancer approach. 


Lets Get A Bit Science-Minded With Mitochondria

Mito-what? It’s a mouthful of a word, I know. Mitochondria are essentially the powerhouse component contained within most cells of your body, and are responsible for directly creating energy for the entire cell to function. Basically the mitochondria use the nutrition you feed your body, combine it with oxygen, and presto, you get energy. Oxygen is one of the super critical pieces of what mitochondria need to produce energy. The more oxygen present, the better off each mitochondria will be. So, what does this mean at the most basic level? It means that thanks to mitochondria being present in every single cell of your body (minus a few select ones), your muscles are able to contact, you’re able to breathe, your organs are able to perform their functions, and essentially, you are able to live and survive! So yes, mitochondria are huge in terms of doing what they need to do!


Mitochondria and Energy

Problems with energy creation arise when our oxygen requirements outweigh the capacity of our cells to convert it into energy.  With less oxygen being converted however, the body is still able to create energy, but through much less efficient means. One of these less efficient modes is called anaerobic metabolism. Basically, cells still create energy, but simultaneously create a large amount of ‘lactic acid’ as a by-product. This ‘lactic acid’ is the acid in the body that builds up in our muscle and tissue and creates the muscle fatigue and cramping feeling we’ve all felt with overusing any one muscle (think about lifting a heavy weight, you can only lift it for so long until the muscle finally fatigues and gives out). Although extremely helpful to human survival, the downside is that energy created from lactic acid is only useful over short quick bouts of time. For a well trained marathon runner, oxygen created energy is the primary mode to support long distance running. In a sprinter however, a significant level of lactic acid is created, as their oxygen usage quickly becomes used up. 


Mitochondria and Cancer Cells

Cancer cells tend to act very differently to that of normal healthy cells. One of the alternative ways a cancer cell functions is that it relies more on lactic acid and less on oxygen to survive. Unfortunately, this benefits the cancer cell as it allows cancerous cells and tissue to easily survive in the absence of oxygen. Normal healthy cells, in the absence of oxygen, can only survive for a very short period of time before they die. Since cancer cells survive better without oxygen, it makes it much more difficult for the body to cut off survival means to these cells, allows cancer cells to use alternative means of living, and thus gives them a major advantage in terms of being able to continue to survive amongst even the harshest of biological and physiological circumstances.


Physical Activity and Cancer 

Thankfully, our bodies still have ways to fight the survival advantage of these cancer cells. Since it is widely known that cancer is largely a disease of metabolic derangement (see the explanation above), it is also widely known that cancer cells do not do well in the presence of oxygen. Easy answer right; simply flood cancer cells with oxygen and they will die? Well, yes, but the tough part is trying to get the oxygen inside of the cancer cell. Many integrative cancer care therapies can in fact create this beneficial environment and drive oxygen into a cancer cells inner core with success. This is why therapies such as high dose vitamin C and DCA therapies clinically work so well. Although therapies such as these work, it’s tough to create an ongoing (24/7) supply of oxygen into all cancer cells, all the time. This is where the benefit of physical activity comes in so useful and handy!


So What Do I need to Do and How Exactly Does This Work? 

When you engage in any form of prolonged physical activity (even as little as in 15 minute bouts), oxygen requirements increase throughout the body (you need more oxygen to keep those muscles working!). By being active, the body floods every cell (including cancer cells) with oxygen, and allows mitochondria to create the energy needed. Cancer cells however, don’t like this. Cancer cells, in order to survive, basically put their mitochondria to ‘sleep’ so that in the presence of oxygen, aerobic energy (energy from oxygen) won’t be created. However, the more oxygen delivered to cancer cells, the more ‘alive’ their mitochondria become. With persistent oxygen delivery to cancer cells, the stress of being in the presence of oxygen switches their energy creation away from anaerobic (lactic acid) energy creation to that of aerobic energy creation, and ultimately causes the cancer cell to die. So the more oxygen our bodies utilize, the less hospitable it becomes to cancer surviving, growing, and spreading (and no, the more blood flow, oxygen and nutrition circulated with ever increasing oxygen, does not feed cancer cells or cause them to spread; this concern has been debunked and completely put to rest). 

Physical activity is one true way to create an optimal anti cancer environment. Simple 15 minute bouts of purposeful activity at least 1-2 times per day, 3-4 times (minimal) per week, is all that it really takes. Brisk walking, a short jog or hike, will totally fill the quota to begin optimizing its benefits. Exercise is part of an overall anti cancer therapy approach, and one that we at Cornerstone Naturopathic Inc. can help with. Do yourself a favour and begin your integrative cancer care approach today.