Exercise and Nutrition

A quote from the 2014 documentary Fed Up concisely sums up how diet and exercise must be thought of as partners in health: “You can’t diet your way out of a sedentary lifestyle. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”

It seems likely that someone who watches what they eat probably also has an active lifestyle. Eating right and moving around just helps you feel better and fuels your fun. Raw or steamed broccoli is better than a bag of chemical chips. Taking a walk around the pond is better than sitting on my duff watching TV or even, ahem, blogging.

Exercise

I am not athletic. Attempts at running were always short-lived and caused me minor injury in the past. But I love to walk outdoors. Going to the UW-Arboretum or Pheasant Branch Conservancy takes care of my heart, lets me decompress, and promotes creativity. Once I build up a little endurance, I also enjoy biking. Gardening, yard work, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and anything functional in the line of caring for my home all count and provide that undeniable feeling of self-satisfaction.

Moving needs to become second nature. My Fitbit has helped me monitor how much I move (or don’t move) on a daily basis. Before that, I wrote down how many miles I walked in a journal. It’s important to find a way to be accountable. A while back I read that making goals wasn’t enough, but a person needed to take goals a step further and make plans. Wanting to walk more is all very nice. Scheduling to walk in the arboretum helps turn the very nice into a reality. Saying I’m going to bike more means nothing if I don’t make sure my bike is ready to go and I make the effort to do it.

Hiking is one of my favorite activities. Hiking gets me out in nature with fresh air, blue sky, and lots of trees. Getting lost in my thoughts and really giving myself time to think away from other distractions always provides me with new insight. There is something amazing that happens in my brain when I pair physical and mental work together. My brain works better and thoughts are clearer. Physically, hiking has a long list of health benefits including improved cardio and muscular fitness, lowering risks of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and also lowering risks of cancers like colon and breast cancer. It’s a great aerobic workout. Hiking also can provide better sleep quality, reduce depression, and lower your risk of an early death. Being active in general tends to lower the risk of death. Honestly. How not surprising. Psychologically, hiking can provide feelings of relaxation and well-being. Sunshine, fresh air, trees, and feelings of accomplishment all feed into better mental health.

Exercise is important for everyone, but keeping it as part of a daily routine is one of my priorities as someone trying to live well with cancer. There definitely are times I would rather sit through a dental cleaning or a foreign film without subtitles than exercise. When I’m already feeling fatigued as a side effect from treatment, it seems crazy to purposely choose to do something that will make me feel more tired. Strangely though, this is not the case. Exercise combats fatigue. I feel tired after exercising, but it’s a different kind of tired than fatigue. I have more energy after I recover from however I’ve chosen to exercise. The energy sticks around a while. Regular exercise has also been connected to increasing survival rates for women with breast cancer. I want to stay alive, hence I exercise every day.

What about when fatigue isn’t the problem? What if it’s physical pain that’s preventing movement? I experienced this the other weekend with aggravated inflammation and muscle soreness from an injection that caused deep hurt with every step. I fought through most of that day trying to find a way to keep fun plans I had that night to go to a concert. I missed my daily workout because I couldn’t exercise through the pain. I could barely walk. I don’t think exercising when you hurt is a safe idea. Pain is a solid stop sign. The up side to my story is I was prescribed some strong medication to help make my evening of fun possible. I still hurt but there were moments I forgot. The down side is the meds made me puke profusely by the next evening. It took days before I moved well again. I’m not pushing activity and I’m definitely not taking any more of those pills. My body will let me know what I can do.

How much exercise does a person need daily? The current guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise (activity that produces a sweat). That’s a mere twenty-two minutes a day when broken down daily. Strength training is suggested at least two times a week. Click here for a short article provided by Mayo Clinic on these recommendations.

Nutrition

After getting through six months of initial chemotherapy in 2012, I needed to make changes in my diet. It’s still hard because of my love affair with sugar. Ideally, I should probably also be a vegetarian, but I love cheeseburgers too much. I try to keep these in check and enjoy them when I eat them. For me, a healthy diet consists of less meat, less processed foods, no alcohol, less sugar, more plant-based proteins, and more fish. More of a plant-based diet in general is a healthy winner. I order a steak about once a year on vacation, but even that is waning because of how I feel after eating it. I eat a lot of fish. My breakfast used to be a fairly tasty blend of five fruits and vegetables in my Nutri-bullet. What I thought was extremely healthy was also providing far too many natural sugars and unknowingly raising my A1C. Now I’ve switched to breakfasts that usually consist of eggs, half an avocado, and one fruit. The avocado cuts the natural sugar from the fruit.

One area in nutrition I’ve been more successful in is eliminating dairy. I miss milk. I love milk. However, it contains casein, a protein that promotes cancer growth in any stage. I know some who have read widely on this and disagree on whether that is true or not. My current feeling is I really don’t have much wiggle room to disagree. It is potentially more beneficial to me to avoid milk than to drink it. There is no dietary reason to consume milk produced by another animal. Calcium can come from plant-based proteins such as quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, white beans, kale, and collard greens. With all that said, I still will enjoy ice cream now and again, maybe a little more than I should. I like string cheese. I slip every so often and have cereal with milk. It tastes awesome, but it can’t become regular diet. I grew up and live in Wisconsin, also known as The Dairy State. Clearly, there is room for improvement in cutting out more foods made with milk. Did I mention I really love ice cream?

I have also added an Omega low-speed, masticating juicer to extract all the vitamins, enzymes, and minerals in their purest and rawest form to provide the highest juice yield. Kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, and green apples make the most gorgeous green juice I’ve ever seen, and it’s also very refreshing. The color green is both a healing and energizing color. Green juice is a great way to send oxygen and needed nutrition to unhealthy cells. Unhealthy cells don’t like oxygen. Too bad, I’m very fond of oxygen. I get to choose, not the other way around.

Both exercise and nutrition need to work in tandem together to get the best results. I am a firm believer that everyone can do something. One person’s exercise or nutritional needs are different from what someone else needs. For example, most people are supposed to get what vitamins and minerals they need from eating a healthy diet and not need these in supplement form. I take a lot of supplements because treatments make it harder for my body to absorb some things. I also still feel a bit down when I look at people hitting the pavement or trails on their bike who look like they are practically flying. I have to work hard to achieve even a slow speed. It takes time for me to build any true endurance. I do the best I can.

Click here to read the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provided by Mayo Clinic. I don’t agree with all the recommendations, but it does force me to justify my choices. As I mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes I feel like there is so much conflicting information on what healthy nutrition means that it’s hard not to drive myself nuts. I look for overlapping ideas from multiple sources.

I try to make the right choices for me in how I move and what I put into my body. I can’t just do one or the other to be healthy. I can’t compare my needs to anyone else’s either. Everyone has individual preferences, routines, and needs. I do learn a lot from others who share what they know when I ask for their wisdom.

My hope is that we all find a way to eat well and move well.

Consider responding:

  • What are some of your favorite healthy foods?
  • How do you enjoy moving?

Trust Your Gut

There is wisdom in the old adage to trust your gut. It tells us when something is off – be it a person, situation, or our bodies. It has been quipped as our second brain and more and more people believe the gut plays a role in our emotional health. I think it’s wise to listen to your gut. I dealt with IBS symptoms for years prior to a cancer diagnosis. Forgive me if I share too much. True, there were trigger foods and emotional triggers that caused issues. I saw many specialists that only ruled things out and never could explain why my stomach and digestion were such a mess. Other than a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, no one ever thought cancer was truly at the root. And it may not have been, but my gut was certainly working hard to tell me something was wrong. I made minor changes to my diet, but wound up just trying to control symptoms since I never got a real explanation.

Interestingly, after the diagnosis, the IBS symptoms all but disappeared. Sure, my diet is much different now, but I find it a very interesting correlation. Trust your gut. Perhaps it’s bringing your attention to something physical or emotional. Listen.

I am not a dietician, a nutritionist, or a health coach. I just want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past few years. Please follow-up with research of your own and consulting health professionals before making changes to your diet.

Eating a plant-based diet is one of the easiest ways to naturally change your gut environment. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics that keep the large intestine happy. Plants that are higher in fiber content help the gut. It has something to do with the fructans found in fiber rich foods. Fructans are a type of prebiotic. The higher the fructan level, the happier your gut biome. Fresh, whole foods are the recipe for a healthy gut biome. If you choose fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, beans (pinto, kidney, white), and whole grains, you’ll have it covered. Artichokes, raspberries, and asparagus are also good sources.

Legumes typically are low in fat, have no cholesterol, and contain insoluble and soluble fiber. They are high in potassium, iron, magnesium, and folate. General foods in the legume family are lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts. Your gut likes legumes. I personally steer clear of soybeans and therefore any soy products due to associations with estrogen production, but I leave it to individuals to research and make their own decisions regarding soy, beans, and any of the suggestions I may make. What’s right for me may not be right for you. It’s always possible I have misread a fact even though I’ve made every effort to double and triple check.

Beans confuse me. Mark Hyman is the author of Food – What the Heck Should I Eat. He believes beans have benefits, mainly as resistant starches. He says the fiber, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients found in beans can be gotten from other food sources. He also writes that beans are to be avoided if you have cancer. I’m left confused here. There are always conflicting statistics, studies, and recommendations about foods. As stated above, beans can help contribute to a healthy gut. There are times I feel that I’m doomed whatever I eat. I still don’t know what the heck I should eat. Then I slip and have a delicious bowl of ice cream.

Broccoli probably wins the prize for the most beneficial food ever grown. I can’t stand it, but I’ve eaten it diligently. Now, I’m on a bit of a broccoli break. It’s easy enough and you can’t beat all its benefits. It’s just one of the mighty cruciferous vegetables that decrease the risk of several types of cancers (breast, colon, melanoma, pancreatic, and liver) and improves bone health. Cauliflower, kale, turnips, and Brussels sprouts are other cruciferous winners.

I have a lot to learn about whole grains. For those in the gluten-free camp, grains aren’t for you. The great thing about whole grains is they are packed with fiber and carbs. When these make their way to the large intestine, they are broken down there and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Plants rich in polyphenols are also helpful to the gut biome because they decrease inflammation in your gut. Polyphenols actually aren’t absorbed efficiently on their way to the colon, which in this case is a good thing, because it means there are more to be digested by bacteria in your gut. Good sources of polyphenols include blueberries, grape skins, broccoli, and onions. Almonds also are a good source, as well as cocoa and dark chocolate. Finally, no guilt for all the dark chocolate I eat! Red wine and green tea are liquid sources for polyphenols.

There are lots of diets out there claiming to achieve wellness for your body – low carb, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no meat, vegan, high protein, high fat, etc. The list goes on and on. Some have merit. I am waiting for the high chocolate diet since dark chocolate has already been established as a very good thing.

Bottom line: Eating a diverse diet that is mostly plants, limited in processed meats, and low in sugar is one that will keep your gut happy and that keeps YOU healthy.

I worked with a naturopath in the fall of 2016. It turns out my gut ecology wasn’t helping my body absorb nutrients even though I had made many diet changes and added supplements to my daily intake. This was less than thrilling news to hear that I’d been getting little if any positive effect from years of faithfully ingesting numerous pharmaceutical grade supplements, not to mention the financial investment involved with that commitment. Apparently, chemotherapy and some medications can drain your body of certain nutrients. The solution was better gut ecology, attained through a plant protein based drink that was dark yellow, thick, and awful tasting. I called it sludge. Strangely enough, I came to count on it as a support. It gave me needed nutrition and repaired my gut. I continue to drink it from time to time since my gut will likely be in need of extra support for a long time.

Gut ecology and health is a burgeoning field of science. No matter what the ailment, it seems improving your gut biome is a place to start recovering better health. Thousands of species of microorganisms make the gut home sweet home. These microbes help maximize nutrient absorption and support digestion. They even can contribute to a better immune system. Both these functions are vital to a stronger, healthier me, so if I need to drink sludge every day, I’ll do it happily, because a body that is functioning creates an environment where cancer cells are not welcome. Healthy bacteria in your gut actually form disease fighting armies. Foods like bananas, broccoli, blueberries, beans, and fermented plant-based foods are natural ways to create this bacteria. I give my gut a boost however I can and also take probiotics.

Michael Pollan is an author and food connoisseur who has taught me a lot about healthier eating. He has three simple rules: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. For further reading, I recommend In Defense of Food (or any book by him).

Trust keeps coming up over and over again as an underlying thread in many posts. It affects how you relate to yourself, to others, and how you function in the world. Trust affects what you eat and how much you eat. Establishing healthy boundaries has a lot to do with trust. I believe there is a direct cause and effect link between happiness, health, and trust. Examining each of these is a huge topic. For now, I’ll keep it simple with a basic guideline to listen to what your gut has to say. Trust yourself. Trust your gut.