Exercise for quality of life

As a cancer researcher, I often get asked to talk about how our choices (to exercise or not, to eat vegetables or Twinkies) influence our health.  And what most people expect me to talk about, and I do, are the benefits of those choices on disease and mortality endpoints.  But I also always talk about the QUALITY of life benefits – not just the QUANTITY of life benefits.

The quality of life benefits are real.  I should know, as one of my earliest published research articles was on the benefit of exercise for quality of life.

It is great to see the dialog about exercise starting to change – to get people to focus on the immediate benefits of exercise.  You feel better.  You sleep better.  Kudos to Jane Brody for highlighting it this week in the NY Times.

If you need some more reasons to exercise today, hop over to Twitter and check out the #reasontoexercise tag from my colleague Dr. Sherry Pagoto.

Go Nuts For Nuts

Limiting red meat intake is one of the key messages I talk about for cancer prevention. Red meat significantly increases risk of colon cancer and may also increase risk of lung, esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancers.  We aren’t exactly sure why (and it probably varies for different diseases).  One possible reason are the risks associated with eating charred meat in particular (which I talked about in this video that significantly decreased the number of invitations I get to holiday BBQs!).

But, as with many of the things you can do to lower your cancer risk, eating less red meat isn’t just about cancer. Eating red meat also increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. The good news is that making a simple switch can change that risk. Faculty Harvard recently reported that replacing just one serving a day of red meat with nuts, low fat dairy or whole grains can lower diabetes risk.

What does this add to our knowledge? We’ve known that red and processed meats increase disease risk and the Harvard data adds to that, but few studies have been able to examine the effect of changing the risky behavior. The Harvard study modeled the change to see what happened to diabetes risk. And risk went down.

So what’s the take home message? Regardless of what you’ve been doing to now, you can change what you’re doing and change your risk. So go nuts for nuts (or whole grains).

National Women’s Health Week

May 13 launches National Women’s Health Week and the Department of Health and Human Services has lined up an impressive list of collaborators for 2012.

One of those partners is the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the advocacy and support organization for 26 women’s sororities.  As a Chi Omega, I’ve been a part of NPC since college.  In recent years, I’ve joined NPC as a Team Leader for the Something of Value program, which provides risk management education to the NPC collegiate women.  These are things I do outside of my “professor life,” but they are no less important to me as a means of giving back and influencing the next generation.

As a researcher committed to women’s health, I was honored when the NPC asked me to participate in their Women’s Health Week efforts. I spoke in the NPC podcast about the importance of prevention and healthy lifestyle choices for women of all ages.  While I often spend my time focused on older adults, we are increasingly seeing data that factors earlier in life matter for disease prevention, including cancer!  For example, my colleague Graham Colditz has long been studying the effects of early adulthood (those college years!) alcohol intake on breast health.  My colleague Kelle Moley is studying how the fetal environment might influence cancer risk in offspring in a study that is part of the TREC Center at Wash U.

Remember, it is never too late to start making healthy choices, but it is also never too early!

Advancing prevention

I know it can seem like every time you turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper, someone is offering a new clue on how we can prevent cancer.  Often, the answer is something you haven’t been able to pronounce since your high school biology class.  The science behind those reports is incredibly important and it will provide clues to eliminating cancer’s toll on humanity.  But the result is that we often ignore what we already know.

What exactly do we know?

We know how to prevent HALF (that’s not a typo) of all cancers.  Yes, really.

In a recent reports in Cancer Causes & Control and Science Translational Medicine, my colleagues and I outline the science behind this.  The 8 ways to prevent cancer campaign at Siteman Cancer Center focuses on the biggest contributors to that 50% of preventable cancers.  (You can watch me talk about it here.) While the ways we can prevent cancer mentioned in these articles might seem like “mere” health tips, they are real prescriptions for cancer prevention, based on more than 30 years of rigorous science from around the world.

Yes, tobacco and obesity really ARE that important for cancer prevention!

Academic Profile

Dr. Kate Wolin is an epidemiologist whose research focuses on chronic disease prevention and post-diagnosis outcomes. She engages with providers on ways to implement lifestyle and wellness programs into clinical care. Dr. Wolin also contributes to the Your Disease Risk prevention resource and led the development of the Cancer Survivors’ 8 Ways to Stay Healthy After Cancer.

Dr. Wolin obtained her doctorate at the Harvard School of Public Health and completed a fellowship in cancer epidemiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a member of the NCI-designated Siteman Cancer Center. Dr. Wolin is a fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine and served on the national committee issuing guidelines for exercise in cancer survivors.

Dr. Wolin’s research is funded by the National Cancer Institute and several private funders. Much of her recent research investigates the role of physical activity in cancer etiology and cancer treatment-related sequelae. Dr. Wolin also researches the implementation of cancer prevention and control knowledge in survivorship care.

Dr. Wolin is an investigator on the ENERGY study (Exercise and Nutrition to Enhance Recovery and Good health for You) at the Washington University School of Medicine and Siteman Cancer Center. The study is seeking breast cancer survivors, who will learn more about healthful attitudes and develop behaviors to improve and promote long-term weight control.

Dr. Wolin is PI of a study that is part of TREC@WUSTL which investigates the role of weight and exercise in post-prostatectomy urinary and sexual function among men with prostate cancer.