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Exercise Cuts the Risk for 13 Cancers

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 3.48.12 PMYou know the virtues of regular physical activity: it can lower your risk of becoming overweight and can keep diseases like heart problems and diabetes at bay.

But can it help reduce the risk of cancer, too?

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine sheds new light on that question.

They found that taking the time to meet the recommended physical activity levels on a daily basis could reduce your risk of 13 different types of cancer.

Hundreds of previous studies have examined associations between physical activity and cancer risk and shown reduced risks for colon, breast, and endometrial cancers.

Exercise might lower colon tumours by speeding the transit of waste through the intestines, leaving little time for any potential cancer-causing agents to harm intestinal tissues.

And physical activity can lower oestrogen levels, which are known to contribute to breast and endometrial tumours.

Still, there was plenty scientists didn’t fully understand about the mechanism, if there is one, by which exercise cuts down on cancer risk.


Exercise & Cancer

The Findings

In the new study, Steven Moore of the U.S. National Cancer Institute and colleagues examined data from 1.44 million people, aged 19 to 98, from the United States and Europe, who were followed for a median of 11 years.

Participants were asked whether they did moderate or vigorous intensity activities in their free time, like walking, running or swimming, and how much physical activity they got.

During the study period, about 187,000 new cases of cancer occurred in the study participants.

Overall, a higher level of physical activity was associated with a 7% lower risk of total cancer.

“Higher level of physical activity” means that you are working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. But you should still be able to carry on a conversation.

Activities include walking fast, doing water aerobics, riding a bike, playing tennis with a partner, or even using a push mower to cut your grass.


Emed Comment 

Most of the associations remained regardless of body size, suggesting that exercise acts through mechanisms other than lowering body weight to reduce cancer risk.

The results support that these associations are broadly generalisable to different populations, including people who are overweight or obese, or those with a history of smoking.

Health care professionals counselling inactive adults should promote physical activity as a component of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention.


Where Do I Start?

If you’ve never exercised before, start off slow. Take a 10 minute walk around the block or play a game of tag with the kids.

Build up to 30 minutes over time. Once you are there, you can then build up intensity if you’d like – for example, jog instead of walk.

Remember also that you need to build in at least two days a week to work on muscle strength. These activities should work all of the major muscle groups of the body, including legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms.

Examples include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, body weight exercises (sit ups, push ups, heavy gardening and yoga.)


Further Reading:



1. Steven C. Moore, et al. Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548 http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2521826

2. Lauren E. McCullough, Kathleen M. McClain, Marilie D. Gammon. The Promise of Leisure-Time Physical Activity to Reduce Risk of Cancer Development. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1521


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