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March 1, 2018 | 4 minute read

Physical Activity Made Easier with Peer Support

Research shows that physical activity offers plenty of benefits for long-term health and plays an important role in both cancer prevention and healthy survivorship. For reducing cancer risk, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. Yet people face numerous challenges to meet the recommendations. In this recent conversation with Dr. Nigel Brockton, Director of Research at AICR, he explains how he keeps up with AICR’s recommendations.

Q. Do you meet AICR targets on physical activity and if so, how do you do it and why?

A. Yes, I do…and I do it mostly to follow the AICR advice to “make physical activity part of your everyday life”.  I ride my bicycle to work and if that was the only activity I did, I would still exceed the minimum recommended time and intensity.  However, I also have two children who keep me active. And I’m involved in the local cycling and international indoor rowing communities.

Why do I do it? Being physically active reduces your risk of colorectal, breast, and endometrial cancer and can help with achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Remember, overweight and obesity increase risk for 11 types of cancer.  Being active also reduces the risk of many other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and types 2 diabetes.  I have had cancer twice, so it is especially important to me not to take my health for granted.

Q. International rowing community sounds like a big deal. Tell me more.

A. Well, I spent last weekend at the World Indoor Rowing Championships but I am certainly not a contender!  Anyone can participate and it is an incredible opportunity to see the very best in action and meet people who I have been rowing with online for many years without ever having met them in-person until last weekend!  The online rowing community is made up of thousands of people of all ages and nationalities. Their reasons for rowing are as diverse as the people involved.  Some are elite athletes and Olympians. Many are just trying to remain active, and some are just dipping a toe into being more active.

The great thing is that the community supports everyone the same way.  There are monthly competitions and virtual teams but the focus is on being better than you were yesterday, not better than someone else. The virtual teams provide an incredible amount of support, advice and motivation.  When your team is relying on you to enter a result, you are much more likely to do it.  We are generally better at being accountable to others than we are with ourselves.

Q. And you are part of your local cycling community too?

A. Yes, I found a group who ride from a bike shop every Saturday morning.  Again, there is a wide range of abilities and motivations involved, but we all support each other, regroup at various spots and then the shop provides coffee and bagels at the end.  It is as much about the socializing as the activity!  But again, there is an element of accountability and peer-support; when my alarm goes off early on a Saturday morning, I get up partly because I don’t want to leave my friends to ride alone.  And I am always glad that I made the effort.  Now it is a weekly ritual and I am home by lunchtime to spend the afternoon with my family.

Q. What would you recommend for people who want to increase their activity but are unsure where to start?

Think about activities that you enjoy…and find other people who enjoy that too.  Whether in-person or virtually, there are so many opportunities to harness the peer-support that will keep you motivated and accountable. And it is so easy with so many online communities.  Oh…and DO IT NOW.

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