Exercise is something we all know that we should be doing, but many people fail to do it on a regular basis. Exercise comes with a legion of benefits, from cardiovascular improvements, to enhanced energy, to elevated mood. Many, however, do not realize that exercise reduces the risk of developing many cancers.
There are a variety of mechanisms behind exercise’s cancer-preventing benefits. People who exercise tend to have a healthier weight, and people who maintain a healthy weight have a lower risk for developing cancer. (1) Exercise lowers inflammation in the body (2), and we know that heightened levels of inflammation are associated with a variety of diseases, including cancer. (3) People who exercise have lower insulin, and less insulin resistance, which reduces the risk of diabetes and cancer. (4) When you exercise, endorphins are released, which can stimulate the immune system in a healthy way, which likely also assists in preventing cancer.
Exercise also plays a key role in performing a vital bodily task; exercise floods the body with oxygen. When you elevate your heart rate and begin to breathe heavily, oxygen is dispersed throughout the body. According to Dr. Otto Warburg’s research, cancer finds it more difficult to thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. It is likely that the increase in oxygen that is instigated by exercise creates an unfavorable environment for cancer cells. This reasoning is the basis for oxygenating treatments such as hyperbaric oxygen and ozone therapy.
Some studies have found a correlation between improving certain lifestyle factors, such as diet and physical activity, and the reduced risk of cancer. It is estimated that as many as 40% of cancer cases could be prevented simply by changing a few lifestyle factors, including exercise. (5) We have known this for some time now, but further research continues to affirm that exercise plays a big role in the prevention of cancer.
A study of over 1.4 million participants published in 2016 found that regular physical activities reduce the risk for a number of cancers, including cancers of the colon, breast, endometrium, esophagus, liver, stomach, and kidney, as well as reducing the risk of myeloid leukemia. Other cancers that might also be prevented by regular exercise include cancers of the head and neck, rectum, bladder, and lung in both current and former smokers. (6)
This is an important finding, but there is another interesting fact that the authors concluded. The amount of exercise needed to reap the cancer-preventing benefits of physical activity was approximately 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. A total of 150 minutes of weekly exercise equated to approximately 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, walking at a 3 mph pace. Certainly, it takes a level of commitment to find the time to exercise. But the amount of exercise needed to reap the benefits of cancer prevention ultimately equates to spending half of what the average worker takes for lunch during the work week. The fact that such a little amount of time and effort on a regular basis can make such a profound difference in cancer prevention is a significant discovery.
If exercise were a patentable drug, it would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars due to its significant anti-cancer benefits! Of course, there is not a drug in existence with so many health benefits, virtually no side effects, and a cost of $0.
- Vainio H, Kaaka R, and Bianchini F. Weight control and physical activity in cancer prevention: international evaluation of the evidence. Eur J Cancer Prev 2002; 11 Suppl: S94-100.
- Woods JA, Wilund KR, Martin SA, et al. Exercise, Inflammation and Aging. Aging Dis 2012; 3(1): 130–40.
- Coussens LM and Werb Z. Inflammation and cancer. Nature 2002; 420(6917): 860-7.
- Borghouts LB and Keizer HA. Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review. Int J Sports Med 2000; 21(1): 1-12.
- Song M, Giovannucci E. Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated With Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States. JAMA Oncology 2016; 2(9): 1154-61.
- “Exercise Linked With Lower Risk of 13 Types of Cancer.” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/latest-news/exercise-linked-with-lower-risk-of-13-types-of-cancer.html.