Licensed Psychologist

Obesity and Cancer

Obesity and inactivity could someday account for more cancer deaths than smoking if current trends continue, a leading cancer expert says.  As the rate of smoking decreases, other unhealthy habits threaten to offset the progress in reducing cancer deaths, says Richard Wender, a physician and chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society (ACS). A study in the New England Journal of Medicine last fall found 13 types of cancer were linked to excess body weight.  There's no guarantee that obesity and inactivity will surpass smoking as a cancer cause, Wender says, but the possibility is startling. "Who would’ve thought we’d ever see the day where what you eat (and) exercise, could account for more cancer deaths than smoking?” he asks.  The connections between smoking and too much exposure to the sun and cancer are well known, but the connections between nutrition and exercise and cancer are less known and harder to determine. Calculating cancer's link to obesity is difficult in part because of an overlap in cancer risk factors, says ACS' Rebecca Siegel, strategic director of ACS' surveillance information services.   Siegel comments that 20% of cancers are caused by poor diet, alcohol consumption, a lack of physical activity and/or excess weight.  However, that 20% cannot be combined with the 30% of cancer deaths caused by cigarette smoking since poor people are more likely to be obese and to smoke than those who are more affluent people.  A striking 50% of all cancer deaths could be prevented by following the basics of a healthy lifestyle, says Wender. That includes diet and exercise and having regular cancer screenings and getting the HPV vaccine that helps prevent cervical cancer and likely oral cancer and for Hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer.

Mind Body Connection

Your emotional, social, and spiritual state has been proven to have a significant impact on your physical health. Stressful events like birth of a new baby, retirement or loss of a job, money problems, divorce, or the death of a loved one often seem linked with the occurrence of physical symptoms. We hear about people who have heart attacks soon after retirement or the development of serious illnesses following a major life change. Students cramming for final exams frequently get sick. Our immune system is weakened and we are more susceptible to illness during those times when we are feeling anxious or upset.

Research has demonstrated that the use of stress reducing techniques can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, relieve pain and improve immune functioning. Mind Body medicine has also improved clinical conditions such as HIV, cancer, insomnia, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is even preliminary evidence that muscles in the body can be toned and strengthened through mental exertion.

You can learn to use your thoughts to positively influence some of your body's physical responses, thus reducing your level of stress. Research has shown that when a person recalls or imagines a happy experience his body and mind tend to relax. On the other hand, when she recalls or imagines a frightening experience, her heart beats faster, her hands may become cold and clammy, and she may begin to sweat.

Below are some relaxation exercises that can help you use the power of your mind to reduce anxiety and promote an increased sense of well being. They do not take the place of needed medical treatment, but they do have powerful psychological benefits.

Relaxed Breathing

Sit or lie down in a comfortable place. Slowly take a deep breath through your nose, hold it, and then slowly, breathe out through your mouth. Focus on your breathing and breathe in a regular rhythm counting from one to five each time you inhale and exhale. Practice this relaxed breathing for 5 minutes two times a day or whenever you feel stressed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation involves sequentially tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in the body, one at a time, and progressing throughout the entire body.

  • The key to this exercise is to tighten a specific muscle group for at least 5 seconds until you feel the tension, and then release the muscles for 10 seconds, noticing the difference in how the muscles feel before and after the exercise.

  • You can start by relaxing the muscles in your legs and feet, working up through each muscle group to your neck, shoulders, and scalp.


Mind Relaxation

Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, say a word or phrase such as "calm" or "I feel peaceful." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, remind yourself to think about your breathing and the word that you have chosen. Keep your breathing slow and steady.

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There are many other tools that trained professionals utilize to help calm you and help you deal with pain and stress. Exercise, yoga, massage, meditation, and guided imagery can also be used to enhance the mind-body connection.
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