New Study Shows Exercise Has Significant Impact on Cancer Risk

Regular physical activity can reduce one’s risk for 13 types of cancer

DAYTON, Ohio (January 12, 2017) – Cancer can be a devastating disease, but a new study suggests one simple lifestyle change may have a greater impact than previously thought to reduce one’s risk of developing it.

Research conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows a strong relationship between regular physical activity and a reduced risk of developing 13 different types of cancer. Hundreds of previous studies had examined and shown a positive connection between exercise and cancer risk, but only for three types – colon, breast and endometrial cancers.

The new research shows that exercise is associated with a reduced risk for 10 additional cancers with the greatest risk reductions for esophageal andenocarcinoma, liver cancer, cancer of the gastric cardia, kidney cancer and myeloid leukemia.

“As a primary care physician, I always bring up exercise with my patients during their visits,” said Geetha Ambalavanan, MD , with Fairborn Medical Center. “The benefits of exercise are endless. Aside from helping a person manage their BMI (body mass index), it plays a significant role in regulating a person’s level of insulin and controlling growth factors in their bloodstream, which have been shown to cause cancer.”

The NCI said cancer growth may be initiated or helped by three metabolic pathways that are also affected by exercise. These include sex steroids – such as estrogen and androgens – insulin and insulin-like growth factors, and proteins involved with both insulin metabolism and inflammation. Other non-hormonal mechanisms that can be affected by exercise and play a role in cancer production include immune function, oxidative stress and the amount of time it takes waste to pass through the gastrointestinal tract, the NCI said.

Dr. Ambalavanan said this most recent research is extremely encouraging and supports an idea she wishes more patients would understand – exercise is not just about losing or maintaining weight.

“It’s important not to gauge the worth of exercise on how much weight it is causing someone to lose,” said Dr. Ambalavanan, who practices with Premier HealthNet. “Weight maintenance is extremely important, but exercise delivers so many other health benefits than that. It’s an important tool to maintain good, overall health.”

Dr. Ambalavanan said individuals should keep in mind the following points about exercise and cancer prevention:

  • The right exercise – There’s a big difference between moving all day and engaging in physical exercise that impacts one’s health. The type of exercise that was studied in the NCI research included moderate to vigorous activity such as walking, running and swimming for 150 minutes over a seven-day period. 
  • Be on the mark – Weight plays an important role in the prevention of multiple diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Make it a goal to maintain a normal body weight, which can be measured by your BMI. Shoot to have a BMI between 20 and 25. Anything above 25 can increase a person’s risk for disease.
  • Don’t forget diet – A healthy diet goes hand-in-hand with regular exercise when it comes to disease prevention. Shift your focus to plant-based diets that have also shown to decrease the risk of cancer. Cut back on processed meats, red meat and excessive alcohol use.
  • Avoid supplement claims – Supplements and vitamins are often touted as preventing cancer. Be careful of such claims and discuss with your doctor any possible use of supplements. 

“My hope is that this research will help motivate individuals to make exercise a priority,” Dr. Ambalavanan said. “There are risk factors we cannot control, but as this study has clearly shown us, we can still play a part in prevention.”

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