It’s no secret that running is beneficial for your overall well-being. However, running as an aerobic exercise and mental challenge, running can specifically benefit pancreatic cancer survivors and caretakers as well. Pancreatic cancer is an extremely challenging disease to contend with. However, for many people at Project Purple, running has helped them cope with the realities of this difficult disease, whether they are caregivers, survivors, or family members. It can be a wonderful outlet and therapeutic experience.
Running to Ease the Mind
There’s a popular theory that what makes the physical activity of running so amazing for certain athletes is the so-called “runner’s high.” However, according to David Linden, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the runner’s high is extremely rare for most athletes, and does not typically contribute to the benefits of the exercise. Linden suggests in an article published by Johns Hopkins, that endorphins, the biological chemicals typically associated with running, prevent muscle fatigue and pain.
What actually causes the relaxed euphoria after you complete a long run, according to Linden, are endocannabinoids (eCBs), neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the body, which influence several biological functions such as stress and anxiety within the body. Linden states that these chemicals are much more likely to cause these feelings of calm because they can cross the blood-brain barrier within the body much easier than endorphins.
This sense of calm leads many runners, especially those dealing with a point of stress like cancer, to pursue running, especially distance running. The mental clarity and serenity that eCBs provide is a healthy and natural way for the body to cope with not just the physical stress of running, but the mental stress of coping with cancer. Running simply kicks those eCBs into high gear, giving many some much-needed relief from negative thoughts or feelings.
However, this sense of calm is not the only way your brain responds to a run. According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, the intense physical stress you put your body through during a run can lower your stress levels in the long term. Those same chemicals that produce the runner’s high also help regulate your overall stress response system. Put simply, when you run regularly, the body’s overall production of eCBs goes up, which likely contributes to an overall elevated mood.
Together, these benefits make running a great exercise for those coping with pancreatic cancer, especially survivors and caregivers. The stress of treatments, or grief, exacerbates a lot of those everyday negative thoughts and feelings people experience. It’s important, both while you’re taking care of someone, or while you’re healing, to keep your stress in check. As many know, the brain and body work together on many different levels. When you introduce stress, or unhealthy habits into your life, the brain and body both respond negatively to those actions, whether it be on an emotional or physical level. Having your health take a dip is the last thing you need while already coping with such a difficult situation.
These brain benefits are one of the reasons Project Purple hosts so many running-based events. It’s a sport that is good for the brain as well as the body, and one that contributes to the healing process in a positive and healthy way. Recently Runner’s World found that many runners have taken control of their mental health by picking up running. The bottom line, your brain when you run is just a better place to be.
Running to Heal Your Body
There are several studies that suggest that running may be a preventive measure against several types of cancers; however, no such data exists to show that aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. But, that doesn’t mean that running can’t help those dealing with the effects of pancreatic cancer, especially survivors.
According to MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, running and other aerobic exercises can help ease some of the physical effects of cancer treatment. Researchers aren’t clear yet as to how exercise helps cancer survivors, but several theories suggest that as you exercise, your body opens up, and even creates new blood vessels, which may help your body recover from treatments.
Cancer.net suggests that overall, running, and aerobic exercise provide several benefits for those dealing with pancreatic cancer. Running while a loved one is in treatment can reduce the negatives that come with caregiving. Survivors also may benefit from running as well, as it may relieve negative physical side effects that come with post-treatment recovery. Running is known to combat fatigue, insomnia, and strength and muscle loss. It also increases your chances of staying mobile as you get back on your feet after treatment, maintaining your heart and lung fitness, as well as reducing your recovery time after surgery.
However, that’s not to say that running is a solution for all. Cancer.org recommends that caregivers and survivors maintain their current routines after a loved one is diagnosed, or after a patient is done with treatment. After treatment, it may be very difficult to get back into exercising. The site suggests that new runners try to get in two to five hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week. They suggest that beginners build their time slowly, making sure to take care of their body as they go by stretching before exercising. Of course, please consult your doctor before pursuing physical activity after treatment to ensure your health and safety.
Running Success Stories From Our Project Purple Community
Several pancreatic cancer survivors have attributed their success in treatment to their regular morning runs. Robin Schroeder, a three-year cancer survivor, pushed herself to run after undergoing Whipple surgery, and though it was difficult, she attributes her successful recovery to running and the strength that it has given her. Mike Skaggs, another pancreatic cancer survivor, found that running helped him build back his spirit and strength after a painful diagnosis and recovery. Both runners believe that running has allowed them to maintain their health after their cancer journey.
Similarly, many runners who have been on past Project Purple teams have also found peace after the loss of a loved one through running. Jaclyn Darst found a new purpose and strength in running after losing her father to pancreatic cancer. Chris Schoell also lost his father to pancreatic cancer, and found that running became his escape, as well as a way to honor his father’s battle.
At Project Purple, we pride ourselves on providing programs for all skill types, so whether you are just starting out, or run marathons regularly, we have a program that will suit your needs. If you are interested in getting involved with some of Project Purple’s exercise-based programs, please click here for more information on how to get involved or contact us with questions.