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Exercise May Cut Risk of Certain Cancers

August 26, 2016

There’s a reason we constantly tell patients to remain physically active. It not only improves their quality of life, it also helps them stay healthy.

Now, there’s even more proof of how exercise improves health. A recent review conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the U.S. National Cancer Institute indicates that regular exercise may reduce a person’s risk of 13 different kinds of cancer.

Yes, 13. 

And the more exercise, the better. Researchers reviewed data from 12 European and U.S. studies for more than 1.4 million adults ages 19 to 98. Adults included in the studies self-reported their physical activity. In the review, researchers examined the self-reported data to determine the impact physical activity had on the risk for 26 cancers. They found that increasing the amount of time you exercise every week could reduce the risk of breast, colon and lung cancer. The risk of cancer continues to decrease the more you exercise. 

In addition to a reduced risk for these three cancers, researchers also found a link between increased exercise and a lower risk for bladder esophageal, endometrial, head and neck, kidney, liver and rectal cancers, as well as leukemia and myeloma, two types of blood cancer. More physical activity led to a 7 percent overall lower risk of these cancers. However, the reduced risk was higher in certain cancers than others. For esophageal cancer, there was a 42 percent reduced risk; 16 percent for colon and lung cancer and 10 percent for breast cancer.

The Importance of Regular Physical Activity

So, how much exercise is enough?

Adults should do two and a half hours of moderately intense aerobic activity every week (walking or swimming) and two or more days a week of muscle strengthening activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). People who can handle more intense physical activity can instead do 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week, such as interval training or running, and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities, the CDC recommends. 

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t follow these guidelines and get enough regular physical activity. According to the CDC, only about 49 percent of Americans meet the guidelines for aerobic physical activity and only 20 percent meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. 

It’s important to mention that the study only found a link between increased physical activity and reduced cancer risk. It didn’t definitely conclude that if you exercise, you won’t get cancer or that people who aren’t physical activity will get the disease. 

However, these recent findings provide further evidence of exercise’s many benefits. Exercise may reduce the risk of cancer because it lowers the levels of certain hormones that have been associated with increased cancer risk. Obesity also has been linked to cancer risk and other chronic conditions, so it’s reasonable to assume that people who aren’t physically active may have a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese, thereby increasing their health risks. 

The motivation to exercise shouldn’t just be to look good, it should be to feel good and improve your chances for a long, healthy life. We all get busy and often put health and wellness at the bottom of our to-do lists, but it has to remain a priority. These findings show that every little bit helps. Even if you start with just 30 minutes of physical activity every day, it’s better than being sedentary.  Make the effort — only good things can come from it.