What do depression, diabetes, and cancer all have in common? They all can be positively impacted by exercise. Various metanalyses focusing on the effects of exercise on depression, diabetes, and cancer all point to positive effects on these illnesses when exercise is used as an intervention. In a recent conference hosted by the American College of Sports Medicine focusing on the benefits that physical activity can provide for individuals battling cancer, diabetes, and depression, Dr. Mary de Groot from the Indiana University School of Medicine shares the statistical evidence that solidifies the fact that exercise is a positive intervention for individuals coping with these diagnoses. Calling upon findings from her own studies and research from other colleagues in the health and fitness field, de Groot concludes that “exercise is medicine,” and that it is time to call it into action.
Exercise Prescription and Positive Outcomes
In the United States, 34.1 million people are affected by diabetes. Additionally, 87 million people are at risk for type 2 diabetes. It is the 7th leading cause of death and can lead to blindness, kidney failure, and neuropathy (a disorder of the peripheral nerves). Type 2 diabetes is reaching people at a great magnitude, and now more than ever, it is time to bring awareness to all individuals that it can often times be prevented by a healthy lifestyle of mindful eating and exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine, as well as the American Diabetes Association, advise individuals to attain 150 minutes of exercise weekly to help with the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, 150 minutes of exercise is the recommended goal once diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This recommended number was put into practice and tested in a clinical trial where researchers wanted to observe the effects exercise could have on A1C levels (the percentage of hemoglobin proteins in the bloodstream that are covered in sugar). The higher the A1C level, the higher your risk is for diabetes. Additionally, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis often is associated with higher levels of depression. Therefore, Dr. de Groot and her team set out to find what effects exercise could have on depression and A1C levels in a type 2 diabetic population. In their study of 140 participants, de Groot and her colleagues found there to be a decrease in A1C levels and depression levels after a 12-week period of exercise intervention. Each participant followed the ACSM guidelines by attaining 150 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity each week. Participants noted depression symptoms to lessen from moderate/severe to mild/none. Additionally, A1C levels were observed to drop by 0.7% by the 6-month follow up assessment following the conclusion of the study (de Groot et al., 2019).
I have had the opportunity to see this play out firsthand in my own experiences with one of my clients. My client’s A1C levels had been hovering in the pre-diabetic range (5.7-6.4%) prior to starting her fitness journey. After two months of consistent workouts and hitting the magic number of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, my client was happy to report to me that she learned at her prior check-up that she was no longer in the pre-diabetic range. With more mindful eating and a commitment to exercise by making it a priority in her day-to-day life, my client was able to achieve a significant accomplishment that got her on track to a healthier lifestyle and a betterment to her overall wellbeing. She took a leap to invest in herself and it sure paid off in her favor.
Abundance of Long Term Benefits
Additionally, Dr. de Groot’s conference touched on cancer and how exercise can also have a positive impact on a cancer patient and the levels of depression that are often associated with the news of a cancer diagnosis. Cancer affects over 5 million adults and is the second leading cause of death in the United States. While cancer is often uncontrollable, one’s chances of acquiring it can be slightly diminished through the incorporation of exercise in day-to-day life. It has been studied that exercise and its effect on cancer is a dose dependent response, meaning that a higher level of physical activity equates to a greater risk reduction for developing cancer. A 2019 study, encompassing 18 systematic reviews and metanalyses revealed there to be an 8-21% risk reduction of certain types of cancer due to physical activity (McTiernan et al., 2019). These statistics are based on individuals completing 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Furthermore, de Groot mentions that 60% of cancer patients experience depression along with their diagnosis. She shares that exercise also creates a positive dose dependent response to depression, meaning that the more one exercises, the less likely they are to experience depressive-like symptoms.
It is apparent that exercise has tremendous effects on individuals who are burdened with diabetes, cancer, and depression. So, why is exercise still being underutilized as a treatment for these diseases and others alike? Is it due to physical barriers like cost and lack of resources (i.e., proximity to a fitness facility)? Or is it deeper and due to things like a lack of confidence, self-motivation, and fear of being injured? Whatever it might be, it is important to identify these barriers and try to overcome these obstacles as exercise has been proven to be a great form of “medicine.” Taking positive action steps is easier said than done and healthy living often requires a lifestyle change that takes discipline and requires consistency. It can be challenging at first, but the plethora of positive benefits associated with these lifestyle changes are sure to outweigh some of the difficulties that come along with implementing healthy eating and an exercise routine into your everyday life.
Make the Investment
Take a moment to reflect. Are you getting in 150 minutes of exercise every week? Roughly 20 minutes of exercise daily? If not, what is holding you back? As a personal trainer, it is my job to support my clients and help them navigate this lifestyle change by helping them to stay healthy and active. I am here to help you along the way and to open your eyes to the importance of taking care of yourself. Just 150 minutes of exercise a week could help save you from a debilitating diagnosis. Exercise certainly cannot cure everything, but it can undoubtedly help with your overall quality of life. It’s time to put exercise at the forefront and start investing in YOU. Your health is in your control. What are you waiting for?
Yours in Wellness,
de Groot, Mary. (2021, June). When diabetes, depression, and cancer collide: the benefits that physical activity can provide. ACSM Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, IN, United States.
Physical Activity in Cancer Prevention and Survival: A Systematic Review (2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527123/
Program ACTIVE II: Outcomes from a randomized, multistate community-based depression treatment for rural and urban adults with type 2 diabetes (2019)https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/42/7/1185