Exercise and Cancer Prevention

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Physical activity has many health benefits that include controlling weight, reducing risk of diabetes, decreasing blood pressure, reducing risk of heart disease, and maintaining bones and muscle health. Perhaps the most compelling reason for engaging in exercise, though, is that it is a proven way to minimize the risk of developing certain cancers.

Multiple research studies have examined the link between exercise and cancer; and while we still don’t understand exactly how exercise reduces incidences of cancer, the results of the studies clearly indicate that those who engage in regular activity are less likely to develop certain cancers in their lifetime.

Colon and Breast Cancer
Colon and breast cancers are especially affected by physical activity. Activity may reduce cancer risk by up to 80 percent in breast cancer and 40 percent in colon cancer. The mechanisms by which risk is reduced vary. High intensity activity 30-60 minutes in duration alters hormone levels which may inhibit tumor growth. Exercise has also been linked to lower insulin levels and reduced inflammatory factors, which may also influence risk.

Exercise and Cancer Treatment
Even after a cancer diagnosis, exercise can dramatically affect the physiological and psychological outcomes for the patient. Cancer patients who have a history of physical activity prior to diagnosis were able to more effectively combat the intense effects of different cancer treatments. These patients reported less fatigue, depression, loss of cardiovascular capacity, and muscle strength than their inactive counterparts, even when they stopped exercising during treatment. Rates of survival were also shown to be higher in active individuals.

It’s Not Too Late
There link between exercise and cancer prevention and management is clear. While a lifetime of physical activity is ideal for prevention, it is never too late to start. Regular activity in men age 65 and older has been shown to slow the progression of prostate cancer. Ideally, adults should engage in 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 or more days each week. Depending on your current fitness level, you may need to start slow, and gradually increase your activity each week. And always consult with your physician prior to starting any exercise program.