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Disclaimer:  This information is not meant as direct medical advice. Readers should always review options with their local medical team. This is the sole opinion of Dr. Meakin based on literature review at the time of the blog and may change as new evidence evolves.

What is your "Litmus" Test? Taking Measures to Get Stronger

As I speak to cancer patients daily, many of whom have been ambushed by a devastating diagnosis, I frequently pose the proposition to decide to "get stronger going forward." This often is a challenging thought given the circumstances; however, I remind them that if they're not getting stronger, then by definition, they're getting weaker.

Go on the stronger path - Coach it Forward Chuck

One doesn't want to be getting more fragile with the diagnosis of cancer looming, so this path to get stronger despite the disease and treatment is a significant paradigm shift. I remind them that if they see themselves maintaining or even getting more robust through the future course, it will generate remarkable momentum and positivity that has untold benefits on other processes in the body. Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true. I may also suggest that in addition to this physical goal, they also strive to be a "giver" to the world in the future and not a "taker" from an emotional and generosity standpoint, and this will also generate the "survivor's mojo" (Deep Survival by Louis Gonzales).  

Taking Measures to Get Stronger

To determine if one is holding their own physically, you don't have to go through the NFL Combine (NFL Combine Testing Comparisons ) or something similar. I suggest the patients determine some reproducible "litmus test" for their physical function in order to take measures to get stronger. A litmus test is a term that originated from chemistry and is now commonly used in politics and other contexts. It is a crucial and revealing test with one decisive factor. Years ago, I chose a litmus test that I try to do at least once a month. I monitor many things in my various workouts, but the post "Wim Hoff Breathing," doing my age in breath-hold pushups, enables me to at least think I am getting more robust with each birthday. (Some propose that the sole benefit of exercise is the placebo effect that we believe is good for us). 

Humans find comfort in drifting with the herd and feeling like the group. When you get the diagnosis of cancer, it is easy to collapse into inactivity, and some circumstances almost mandate inactivity. But our modern-day narrative is physically and mentally; we peak around 25-40 and decay from our best after that. What if this groupthink could be challenged by some simple test or practice to verify you are not on the downhill side of the curve but still marching upward in your later decades and with complex diagnoses? Recent studies imply that this "reverse engineering thinking" may reprogram the epigenome that manages DNA replication and RNA transcription for protein production in our bodies to aid this shift. 

Push Ups - Coach It Forward Chuck

On our onboarding form, we ask our patients what their one-minute push-up maximum is. Men from their toes and women from their knees have published fitness standards, and we try to get some sense of one's strength at the initial meeting. Muscle mass and strength correlate positively with favorable outcomes for cancer and most chronic diseases. (One Minute Pushup Test for men and women)

Friends Walking - Coach it Forward Chuck

Other options can be as simple as timed walks around the neighborhood, household steps, one minute of air squats, or whatever you deem safe and reproducible for your current condition. For more intense options, here is the list by professional fitness coach Phil McDougall that includes options like the chin-up bar hang time, leopard crawl hold, closed-eye one-foot balance hold, and more (Litmus Tests for all Training Goals ).

6-point Summary

  1. Get stronger, don't get weaker: Encourage you to take an active approach to maintaining and improving physical function, even against challenges like cancer.

  2. Find your "litmus test": Choose a simple, repeatable measure of your physical capacity, like push-ups or timed walks, to track progress and stay motivated.

  3. Challenge the age narrative: Don't succumb to the idea of inevitable decline with age. Actively work to stay strong and defy the downward curve.

  4. Give, not just take: Aim to be a "giver" in the world, contributing emotionally and generously, which can boost your "survivor's mojo."

  5. Muscle matters: Muscle mass and strength are linked to better outcomes in cancer and other chronic illnesses.

  6. Step out of the herd: Find an approach that works for you, regardless of age or condition, and take charge of your well-being.

Whether you are facing cancer, cardiovascular disease, or any chronic condition or just advancing years, find your measure, step out of the herd, and pave your path.

Stay strong, curious and be your own best doctor, 


Disclaimer: This information is not meant as direct medical advice. Readers should always review options with their local medical team. This is the sole opinion of Dr. Meakin based on a literature review at the time of the blog and may change as new evidence evolves.


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