Ask the Coach

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Cancer runs in my family. How is exercise related to the prevention of different types of cancers?

There is substantial evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lower risks of several types of cancer. Colon cancer is one of the most studied cancers in relation to exercise. A meta-analysis of 52 epidemiologic studies that examined the association between physical activity and colon cancer risk found that the most physically active individuals had a 24% lower risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active.

Many studies show that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women; in a 2013 meta-analysis of 31 prospective studies, the average breast cancer risk reduction associated with physical activity was 12%. Physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women, but the association is stronger for postmenopausal breast cancer. Women who increase their physical activity after menopause have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who do not. The average endometrial cancer risk reduction associated with high versus low physical activity was 20%. There is some evidence that the association between physical activity and endometrial cancer risk may be the effect of physical activity on obesity, a known risk factor for endometrial cancer.

In a study of over one million individuals, leisure-time physical activity was linked to reduced risks of esophageal adenocarcinoma, liver cancer, stomach cancers, kidney cancer, myeloid leukemia, myeloma and cancers of the head, neck, rectum and bladder.

Exercise has biological effects on the body which have been proposed to explain associations with specific cancers, including:
• Lowering the levels of hormones such as insulin and estrogen, and of certain growth factors that have been associated with cancer development and progression
• Helping to prevent obesity and decreasing the harmful effects of obesity, particularly the development of insulin resistance
• Reducing inflammation
• Improving immune system function
• Altering the metabolism of bile acids, resulting in decreased exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to these suspected carcinogens
• Reducing the amount of time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens

Research has found no harmful effects on patients with cancer from moderate exercise. It has demonstrated that those who exercised regularly had 40% to 50% less fatigue, the primary complaint during treatment.
Sedentary behavior, such as prolonged periods of television viewing, sitting and lying down, is a risk factor for developing chronic conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and for premature death. Follow the recommended guidelines for physical activity to reduce the chances of developing cancer and other chronic conditions. Train hard!

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Carla Gray, BSES, HFS, CPT is a personal trainer and can be reached at
info@fitnessconnection.net or (504) 885-7855.

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