Exercise for Cancer Patients

Book Review & Analysis: Primal Endurance

Here is some light reading for the rest of the summer. Mark Sisson is an accomplished athlete, ex-professional runner and the man behind the very informative Mark’s daily apple. Mark’s approach is both no-nonsense and deeply grounded both in science and in his personal experience. In this post, I will review a concept-changing book he wrote a while back on fitness, training and lifestyle. I will particularly review how this book is, I think, highly relevant to cancer patients.

The book Primal Endurance shakes up the mainstream approach and challenges the overly stressful, ineffective conventional approach to endurance training. Indeed, the prevailing chronic cardio approach promotes carbohydrate dependency, overly stressful lifestyle patterns, and ultimately burnout, whereas Primal Endurance advocates starting slower until you build up your metabolic engine.

Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson: Book review and analysis by a complementary therapist

This is then combined with paleo-type of dietary changes that are broadly aligned with my own nutritional advice.

The core of Mark’s fitness approach could be summarised as such: when you train at too high an intensity, for instance running too fast for too long, your body has no other choice but to work anaerobically. This essentially means that glucose is split to create lactate via the fermentation pathway. On the other hand, if you slow down sufficiently to stay in the aerobic zone, your body is able to use oxygen and burn fat as fuel.

Overtime, by staying in the aerobic zone, your body produces more mitochondria and is able to move faster while burning fat for fuel. On the other hand, by remaining in the anaerobic zone for too long, mitochondria get weaker and free radical damage increases, as your body has to rely on glucose fermentation for energy. The thing is, most people and including many athletes, will way too often stay in the anaerobic zone – the one where glucose is split without oxygen. Long term this promotes inflammation, decrease mitochondria health and count, and lead to over-reliance on carbohydrate.

Safe Exercise for Cancer Patients: the key is to listen to your body and not overdo it.

While this approach has some clear benefits for athletes and people who want to lose weight, promoting the aerobic pathway is extraordinarily important for cancer patients.

Indeed, according to the theory of metabolic origin of cancer, when mitochondria get damaged, the cells cannot breathe properly, and are forced to rely on glucose fermentation to survive. This then creates DNA damage and cascade into the production of oncogenes and eventually cancer.

This is the reason why a ketogenic diet is such a powerful intervention both for prevention and recovery from cancer. Effectively, the diet creates a situation where glucose isn’t going to be so easily available to all cells, and those that can only rely on glucose will have a much harder time.

When a primal endurance strategy is used together with the ketogenic diet, the body becomes very good at burning fat for fuel, and the person can more easily rely on a really low-carb approach.  The benefits of a primal endurance training regimen for people recovering or at risk of cancer are numerous:

  • Boosting mitochondrial health
  • Increasing insulin sensitivity – therefore lower blood sugar
  • Strengthening muscles – leading to a lesser risk of muscle-wasting
  • Decreased inflammation when compared with standard “cardio”
  • Weight loss as you are predominantly burning fat during this type of workout.

Of course, when you are seriously sick it is sometimes difficult to find the strength to do anything at all, let alone thinking about exercise. However – and here is the important point, the great thing with the primal endurance approach is, you don’t have to run a marathon to gain the benefits. Anything that challenges you a bit more than usual will bring you benefit. And for some people I know, standing up once in a while is plenty of exercise. And that’s fine, the key is to get started today. Make it fun if you can. And in no time you’ll be amazed by your progress.

In order to motivate your imagination a bit, let me show you a few activities among the many that you could choose. Just find your own path.

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