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Can Exercise Prevent Certain Cancers? Here’s What We Know

January 7, 2022

Physical movement is no doubt the easiest and most inexpensive way to improve our overall health.

Back then, hospital patients were discouraged from merely moving out of bed. Today, with the help of research, more and more health professionals are supporting the benefits of movement and incorporating physical activity not just for the treatment but also for the prevention of certain diseases – one of which is cancer.

In line with this, however, experts suggest longer durations of exercise to cut your cancer risk.


How does exercise work against cancer?

Exercise has many physiological and psychological effects on the body. Many of which have been proposed to explain the association between exercise and cancer prevention. Let’s take a look at the factsheet below.


  • High activity levels may lower the level of estrogen, a hormone associated with the development of breast and colon cancer.
  • Exercise can help waste pass through more quickly, reducing contact with cancer-causing agents to prevent bowel cancer.
  • Active bodies produce less insulin and insulin-like growth factors that speed tumour growth.
  • An active lifestyle helps prevent obesity and reduce excess body fat, a risk factor for pancreatic, esophageal, colorectal, uterine, liver and kidney cancer.
  • Exercise can help reduce the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens


Generally, the postulated mechanism underlying the benefits of exercise to cancer prevention include reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, regulation of insulin and estrogen, weight maintenance, and improvement of immune surveillance in our system..


How much exercise do I need?

The specific dose of exercise tailored for cancer prevention remains to be an open question that research hopes to answer.

Nonetheless, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, for substantial health benefits and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer, adults are recommended to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.


What kinds of activities can I do?

Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines, shares in an interview with the Healthline that current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history.

Anyhow, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

Prevention is still better than cure but it seems like exercise endeavors to be the best of both worlds. Physical activity encourages a healthy lifestyle which could pass as the best measure to cut our risk for the development and progression of any disease including cancer.


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