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Can Exercise Really Prevent Cancer?

Developing cancer can be a frightening and difficult situation. However, the good news is that regular exercise can assist in lowering the chance of developing some cancers. Additionally, exercise has a number of advantages for your bodily and mental health that can enhance your general wellbeing. In today’s blog, we will examine the connection between exercise and cancer prevention, the best kinds of exercise, and the ideal amount of exercise for the best outcomes. Keep reading to find out more about the advantages of exercise, whether you want to lower your chance of cancer or just live a healthier lifestyle.

What Is Cancer?

When cells in the body begin to grow uncontrollably, this results in cancer1. The division and growth of cells typically occur in an orderly fashion, but cancer cells have the capacity to develop uncontrollably and invade nearby tissues and organs. Metastasizing is the process by which cancer cells move over time from one area of the body to another.

Cancer comes in a wide variety of forms, each with its own distinctive traits and range of available treatments. Additionally, cancer can strike anyone at any age, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background, though some types are more prevalent than others.

The Link Between Exercise And Cancer Prevention

Numerous studies have indicated over the years that exercise may be crucial in lowering the risk of developing certain types of cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that regular exercise is linked to a reduced chance of various cancers, including breast, colon, lung, and endometrial cancer2. Exercise has also been shown to enhance cancer patients' prognosis and quality of life.

Although the exact mechanisms by which exercise prevents cancer are still not known, there are a few hypotheses. One is that hormone regulation, which may play a role in the emergence of some cancer kinds, can be aided by exercise3. For instance, consistent exercise has been shown to lower estrogen levels, a hormone which, when exposed to for a long time or appears in high levels, is linked to a higher chance of breast cancer4.

Exercise may also help lower bodily inflammation, which is thought to play a role in the emergence of cancer. Exercise has also been shown to enhance immunological function, which aids the body in warding off cancer cells5.

Types Of Exercise That May Prevent Cancer

Regular exercise has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. While any type of exercise is better than none, some types of exercise may be particularly effective in preventing cancer. Here are some examples:

  1. Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercise, also known as cardiovascular exercise, is any type of exercise that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe harder. Examples include brisk walking, running, cycling, and swimming. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast, colon, and lung cancer6,7. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

  2. Resistance training: Resistance training, also known as strength training, involves using weights or resistance bands to strengthen your muscles. Resistance training has been shown to improve bone density and reduce the risk of falls, which is particularly important for older adults who are at increased risk of certain types of cancer8. Resistance training can also help prevent muscle loss that often occurs with aging. Aim for at least two days of resistance training per week, targeting all major muscle groups.

  3. High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT involves alternating short periods of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. HIIT has been shown to improve various health markers, such as cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity9, and may also be beneficial for reducing the risk for cancers such as breast cancer10. HIIT can be done with any type of exercise, such as cycling, running, or bodyweight exercises.

How Much Exercise Is Needed To Prevent Cancer?

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with at least two days of strength training11. This level of activity has been associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, and lung cancer.

However, it's important to note that any amount of exercise is better than none. Even small amounts of physical activity, such as taking a short walk or doing some light stretching, can have health benefits. In fact, some studies have suggested that even 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day can reduce the risk of cancer.

Other Lifestyle Factors That May Impact Cancer Risk

Exercise is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower the chance of cancer, but it's not the only thing to take into account. Additional behavioral choices that could influence cancer risk include:

  1. Diet: Certain kinds of cancer can be prevented by following a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein12. Consuming too much alcohol, sugary beverages, and processed and red meat can all be harmful.

  2. Tobacco: Including lung, stomach, and bladder cancer, smoking and other tobacco use pose a significant risk for many cancers13. One of the best things you can do to lower your chance of cancer is to stop smoking.

  3. Sun exposure: UV radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer if you are exposed to it too much14. Your danger can be decreased by donning protective clothing, applying sunscreen, and avoiding peak sun hours.

  4. Alcohol: Heavy drinking has been associated with a higher chance of developing certain cancers, such as colon, liver, and breast cancer15. The American Cancer Society advises against exceeding the recommended daily limits of one drink for women and two for men.

You can take steps to lower your risk of getting cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, abstaining from tobacco and excessive alcohol use, and using sun protection techniques. It's never too late to alter your lifestyle for the better and lower your chance of developing cancer.

Final Thoughts

Regular exercise can play an important role in preventing cancer, along with other healthy lifestyle factors. By engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with at least two days of strength training, you can reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. However, any amount of exercise is better than none, and incorporating a variety of exercise types can target different aspects of your health.

Other lifestyle factors, such as a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and practicing sun safety, can also help reduce your risk of developing cancer. Remember, making positive changes to your lifestyle at any age can have significant benefits for your health and well-being.

HelenHealth Is Here To Help!

HelenHealth offers our community members various ways to jumpstart their cancer prediction and prevention journey. We have a team of fitness experts, nutritionists, and genetic counselors who can guide you as you assess your risk for cancer and ultimately prevent it. If you would like to learn more about how you can join our community today, don’t hesitate to reach out to me through my email!

Stay Healthy,

Samantha Ackary

Partnerships and Public Relations Head



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