A healthy and well-maintained body is a body less likely to get sick and one more likely to recover when illness and disease do occur. But being healthy is more than just adopting a healthful diet; as you may have heard seemingly thousands of times, exercise is crucial for staving off disease. In fact, several studies have validated this simple truth: that exercise can prevent cancer.
One paper published as far back as 2003 in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found physical activity to play a preventative role in the fight against cancer.
That paper looked at 100 previous studies on the topic and came to the conclusion that:
“The data are clear in showing that physically active men and women have about a 30-40% reduction in the risk of developing colon cancer, compared with inactive persons … With regard to breast cancer, there is reasonably clear evidence that physically active women have about a 20-30% reduction in risk, compared with inactive women. It also appears that 30-60 min·d-1 of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity is needed to decrease the risk of breast cancer, and that there is likely a dose-response relation.”
A much smaller study presented last year at the meeting for Integrative Biology of Exercising VI indicated cancer prevention could be the result of the immune function boosting powers of exercise.
“If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves cancer surveillance, it’s one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives,” said lead researcher Laura Bilek. “What we’re suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren’t helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful.”
Another significantly larger analysis looked at the physical activity and breast cancer rates of 73,615 women over a period of 17 women, and found that exercise reduced cancer risk.
In that study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, the women with the highest levels of physical activity were 25% less likely to develop breast cancer when compared with those living a sedentary lifestyle. Those women who walked at least seven hours each week even had a 14% lower risk than those who walked only three hours or less each week.
Even for those already diagnosed, exercise could aid in recovery. Men diagnosed with prostate cancer, for instance, had a better prognosis if they were physically active. Those who walked the fastest, or worked out the hardest, had less aggressive tumors and were more responsive to treatments.
Most people recognize that exercise is important for their heart health and waistline, but few realize the cancer-protective effects of being active.