If you need a reason to work out, a new study has found that even a couple of hours spent exercising a week can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer.
The list of risk-reduced cancers that appear to be affected by exercise includes three of the four major cancers connected to Americans’ mortality: breast, colon and lung cancer. And the more activity you engage in, the greater the benefit – risk levels continue to drop based on the amount of time you spend working out.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society looked at data from 1.4 million adults aged 19 to 98 for this study, pooling information from 12 U.S. and European studies. Exercise was associated with a reduced risk for half of the 29 cancers studied by the investigators, even when other risk factors such as obesity and smoking history were factored into the results.
And while the study has not proven a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between cancer risk and exercise, the statistics indicate a clear association between exercise and reduced cancer risk. The research team even provided the percentage of risk reduction.
The risk of developing seven cancer types was 20 percent (or more) lower among the most active participants (90th percentile of activity) as compared with the least active participants (10th percentile of activity).
- People who exercised the most had a 42 percent lower risk of esophageal cancer
- A 27 percent lower risk of liver cancer
- A 26 percent lower risk of lung cancer
- A 23 percent lower risk of kidney cancer
- A 22 percent lower risk of stomach cancer
- A 21 percent lower risk of endometrial cancer
- A 20 percent lower risk of myeloid leukemia
- A 17 percent lower risk of myeloma
- A 16 percent lower risk of colon cancer
- A 15 percent lower risk of head and neck cancer
- A 13 percent lower risk of rectal cancer
- A 13 percent lower risk of bladder cancer
- A 10 percent lower risk of breast cancer
Risk was reduced for lung cancer, but only for current and former smokers; the reasons for this are still being studied.
“Leisure-time physical activity is known to reduce risks of heart disease and risk of death from all causes, and our study demonstrates that it is also associated with lower risks of many types of cancer,” said Steven C. Moore, who led the study. “Furthermore, our results support that these associations are broadly generalizable to different populations, including people who are overweight or obese, or those with a history of smoking. Health care professionals counseling inactive adults should promote physical activity as a component of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention.”
So, how much exercise do you need to do to reduce your cancer risk? Dr. Moore said that the federal guidelines for heart health that advise people to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, are also effective for cancer prevention.
Brisk walking is considered moderate-intensity, while swimming laps or jogging count as vigorous activity.
About half of all American adults don’t meet the federal minimum recommendation for exercise, the study authors said in background information.
Why does exercise apparently reduce cancer risks so dramatically? There’s no conclusive answer to this, but it’s likely that exercise results in balanced hormone levels, lower levels of inflammation, and an enhanced ability to repair damaged DNA that can cause cancer.
“For years, we’ve had substantial evidence supporting a role for physical activity in three leading cancers: colon, breast, and endometrial cancers, which together account for nearly one in four cancers in the United States,” said Alpa V. Patel, Ph.D., a co-author from the American Cancer Society. “This study linking physical activity to 10 additional cancers shows its impact may be even more relevant, and that physical activity has far reaching value for cancer prevention.”
The study’s findings were published online May 16 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
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