It is estimated that over 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in just the United States this year alone (National Cancer Institute, 2012). Many people are unaware of the prevalence of cancer. Fortunately, despite the haziness that surrounds that number, many individuals are aware of the risk factors and take steps to avoid them. Some known risk factors include exposure to cigarette smoke (second hand or otherwise), the sun, excessive alcohol, pesticides and pollution, unsafe sex and of course, the unavoidable genetics pool.
Looking at the risk factors for cancer can be fairly bleak in and of itself. After all, the list is all defense. Avoid this and avoid that. What about a little offense? Did you know that there are pro-active steps you can take to ward off cancer? One big thing you can do to protect yourself is indulging in regular physical activity.
Yes, physical activity really can help prevent cancer. Approximately a third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. per year have been linked to diet and exercise habits (Warner, 2006).
What types of cancer does physical activity help prevent?
There are roughly 200 different types of cancer. The link between physical activity and cancer prevention has not been fully determined for all the different types. However, physical activity has been shown to help ward off the following cancers:
How much physical activity do I need?
Cancer prevention guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society call for (at the minimum) 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week (Warner, 2006). Obviously, any amount of physical activity is better than none. However, getting in a good workout on a regular basis is ideal. One of the key words there is “workout” meaning you should feel what you’re doing; a workout is not walking to the pantry to look for a snack. The other key word is “regular”. Working out whenever you feel like it probably isn’t very often or dependable – exercise should be a part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth.
If you lead a busy life or aren’t in the best shape, don’t worry if you can’t complete all 30 minutes at one time. Dr. Karen Basen-Engquist writes, “You can break-up your 30 minutes into three 10-minute workouts if you like. Studies suggest this approach may be as good as 30 continuous minutes of moderate intensity exercise” (Engquist, n.d.).
What do you mean “moderate” exercise?
Moderate exercise is different for everyone. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, moderate exercise includes activities that “slightly increase heart rate and make you breathe more deeply” (Smith, 2011). Moderate exercises include but are by no means limited to:
- Sports such as golfing and volleyball
- Lawn care including gardening
So, again, walking to the pantry to hunt for a snack doesn’t count…nor does channel surfing.
How does physical activity prevent cancer?
Physical activity helps prevent cancer in various ways. For instance, physical activity:
- Strengthens the immune system.
- Increases intestinal function thereby removing potentially harmful contents from our bodies in a shorter period of time (PreventingDisease.com, n.d.).
- Typically leads to the practice of other healthy habits such as eating better.
- Aids the body in metabolizing glucose – a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and diabetes impair the body’s ability to metabolize glucose leading to high levels of insulin in the pancreas which may cause cancer (Carpenter, 2011).
- Reduces the levels of estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and growth factors in the body – thought to be the culprit of breast cancer (McTiernan, n.d.).
What kind of advantage over cancer does physical activity give me?
Physical activity slants your odds over cancer differently depending on the type of cancer. The numbers range from cutting your risk by 20% all the way up to 50%. Here are some examples:
- Lung Cancer – A study done by Steven Blair, an epidemiologist with the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, showed that “moderately fit men had a 20% lower risk of dying of lung cancer compared with men who were not fit” (PreventingDisease.com, n.d.).
- Colon Cancer – Some studies have shown that the physically fit have up to 50% less of a chance of developing colon cancer (PreventingDisease.com, n.d.).
- Pancreatic Cancer – A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that obese individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle are at two times the risk of developing pancreatic cancer than individuals who are leading an active lifestyle (Carpenter, 2011).
- Breast Cancer – Women who exercise at moderate or vigorous levels for a minimum of three hours a week reduce their risk of breast cancer by 30% (McTiernan, n.d.).
Is it too late to start?
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it is NOT too late to start exercising. According to researchers, physical activity boosts the immune system, reduces fatigue and stress, and increases body function – all of which are vital in treating any disease including cancer (Matson, n.d.). If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or are currently in treatment consult your physician for a workout routine; remember, you don’t have to go to the gym and run a 5k. A moderate workout can make a world of difference.
Physical activity not only prevents cancer in the first place but also helps keep it from coming back. For instance, women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and exercise for 2.5 hours a week at a moderate level lower their risk of recurring breast cancer by over 40% compared to women who are active less than one hour a week (Daily Mail, 2011).
Cancer is a tragic part of life; however, you don’t have to be a victim. Avoid the risks that you can, keep a positive attitude, and when the opportunity presents itself, go on the offensive. Moderate physical activity for just 2.5 hours a week can greatly reduce your chances of contracting certain cancers – isn’t that time well spent? On top of that, physical activity offers an array of benefits including improved appearance, mood, sleep, and sex life. Get to the gym – you’ll feel and look good inside and out!
Article contributed by Alex Webb on behalf of Cincinnati Urology Group. Alex comes for a family with many cancer survivors and thinks its very important to find ways in which she can promote cancer awareness and prevention. She is on the offensive when it comes to warding off cancer and makes sure to get her 2.5 hours of physical activity in every week. Follow her on twitter @alexandriakwebb.
Basen-Engquist, K. (n.d.). Exercise to prevent cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/02/exercise-prevent-cancer.html
Carpenter, J. (2011). Diet, Exercise Prevent Pancreatic Cancer. Retrieved from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117270&page=1#.T_pWmY4TswR
Daily Mail (2011). Exercise a ‘super drug’ for cancer survivors that can stop disease from returning. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2023583/Exercise-cancers-superdrug-stop-disease-returning.html
Matson, S. (n.d.). How Does Exercise Prevent Cancer? Retrieved from: http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5121518_exercise-prevent-cancer.html
McTiernan, A. (n.d.). Exercise Helps Prevent Breast Cancer. Retrieved from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=116923&page=1#.T_pYKY4TswR
National Cancer Institute (2012). SEER State Fact Sheets: All Sites. Retrieved from: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html
PreventingDisease.com (n.d.). More Evidence That Exercise Prevents Cancer. Retrieved from: http://preventdisease.com/home/tips42.shtml
Smith, C. (2011). Exercises That Help Prevent Cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/315353-exercises-that-help-prevent-cancer/
Warner, J. (2006). Do ‘Real’ Exercise to Prevent Cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20060928/do-real-exercise-to-prevent-cancer