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.