Why physical activity makes all the difference

By Raymond Onyango.

As we come to the end of the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this October.  We as a nation have plenty of reasons to reflect on the increasing prevalence of cancer in our society. In the intervening months we have followed Health Minister the Hon. Anyang Nyongo’s successful battle with prostate cancer and we have been unfortunate enough to loose one of the worlds most Illustrious Conservationists and Nobel Peace Laureates, the Late Professor, Waangari Mathaai, who succumbed last month to Ovarian cancer after a long struggle bravely borne.

These two events, have served in no small way to shed light on some of the shifting patterns of medical health care needs in Kenya today. For instance in May this year at a WHO conference in Moscow, Health Minister the Hon. Anyang’ Nyongo’ revealed that over fifty percent of the hospital beds in Kenya are currently occupied by individuals suffering from lifestyle diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and many more.

This simple fact marks a huge turning point in the history of this nation, because it puts us firmly in the category of countries whose healthcare burden and expenditure is greatly increasing at the cost of other relevant development programs such as education for our children.

Fortunately the capacity to make a difference and mitigate these rising statistics is within our reach, at little if any cost. For that reason I would like to contribute to this breast cancer awareness month by highlighting the growing body of medical evidence that confirms that better nutrition and a more active lifestyle can greatly help reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Physical Activity Reduces Risk

Given that some of the factors that have been demonstrated to affect a woman chances of developing breast cancer include genetic factors such as a family history of breast cancer, and lifestyle factors such as obesity, one of the biggest fronts in the war against breast cancer is the drive to encourage more women to eat better and move more. Several studies have documented the correlation between increased activity and reduced risk of breast cancer, including a recent study led by Dr. Marilie Gammon of the Columbia University, School of Public Health.

Obesity Increases Risk

One of the findings that have emerged from this new Breast Cancer Research is that obesity is a major contributing factor to the prevalence of breast cancer. The reason for this is because obesity is a huge determinant of the levels of the hormone estrogen, which is closely linked to breast cancer. It would appear that regular exercise of a low to moderate intensity could confer some kind of protection to most women by regulating the levels of this hormone in the body and thus hitting directly at the source of this particular type of cancer.

Another factor that has emerged is the correlation between weight gain in postmenopausal women and the prevalence of breast cancer. It seems that one of the most important things a woman can do to mitigate her risk of developing breast cancer is to maintain a healthy bodyweight, especially post menopause.

What kind of exercise helps?

When it comes to exercise, it is the little things that count. You need to aim to incorporate at least 30 minutes of light to moderate physical activity into you day, including such activities as Walking, Yoga, Swimming or attending an aerobics class where possible. The aim is to encourage an active lifestyle even outside the gym, including little lifestyle changes such as using the stairs as opposed to the lift or parking in one central area in town and running your errands on foot.

Working out regularly and living a physically active lifestyle will also have several benefits outside of breast cancer prevention, including a lower incidence of hypertension and other heart diseases, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Now that the battle to fight cancer in Kenya is receiving a bigger share of press time, it is crucial that every woman in Kenya makes the effort to eat better and move more. The more effort that is made to encourage Kenyans to exercise regularly and eat healthy, the greater the chance we have of defeating breast cancer in our lifetime!

Have an active week will you!