The idea that exercise is important for a cardiovascular and cognitive health is not new, but recent research has provided new information about its cancer-risk-reduction effect, as well. Researchers dug into data to find the exact science behind the recommendation. They were very clear in their goal: they did not want to provide a general and vague statement like “exercise reduces the risk of cancer.” The researchers wanted specific, replicable data — and it appears they were successful.
What do we know about exercise and cancer?
A study from 2019 reviewed millions of people and found that exercise appears to reduce the risk of cancer by up to 20%. This study focused on the likelihood of developing cancer in patients diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that typically causes colorectal cancer early in life. The high risk of colon cancer in this population afforded an assessment of specific risk reduction with exercise. Although a small sample, it provided a medical basis by which exercise can reduce cancer risk.
What did researchers find in this study?
The scientists looked to add to research from 2019 by providing data on immune biomarkers. To achieve this goal, participants were broken into two groups. One completed 45 minutes of cycling three times per week for a year, the other did not. Notable findings include:
- Increased immune cells. The researchers state that those who completed the exercise had higher levels of CD8+ T cells and natural killer cells in blood and colon tissues compared to those who did not exercise.
- Decreased inflammation. The participants also had lower levels of inflammatory marker prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) compared to those who did not exercise.
Researchers with the study believe that these two changes not only helped the body fight the cancer that was already present in the body but also allowed it to attack cells that would potentially become cancerous in the future.
What are the key takeaways from this study?
In this study, 135 minutes of rigorous exercise (45 minutes three times per week) increased the body’s immune system’s ability to fight cancer. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of both.
Even though this study was small, it reinforces the need for Americans to commit to exercising to improve cardiovascular health, cognitive function and now to reduce cancer risk.