Exercise Fights Cancer
We’ve known for a long time that physically active people show reduced risk of certain cancers. Most studies have focused on the correlation between exercise and the more common cancers—breast cancer in women, and colon and lung cancers in women and men.
But a recent study sought links between exercise and other cancers.
And, boy, did they come through.
Their huge news is that exercise may significantly reduce your risk of developing these 13 additional cancers:
- Bone marrow
- Head and neck
- Rectum and bladder
What’s weight got to do with it?
While they were slicing and dicing a decade of data on some 1.4 million people, researchers also found that being overweight doesn’t get in the way of the anti-cancer benefits of exercise.
So please, would-be slimmers, remember that exercise isn’t the only way to lose weight. But it’s just about the best way to beat cancer.
Do I hear millions of running shoes being pulled on?
Let’s hope so.
But … what’s “exercise?”
For our purposes, namely maintaining or improving health, exercise is any activity that requires movement.
Why such a low baseline?
Well, when someone recovering from a stroke, for example, can move a stroke-impeded finger for the first time, we start there and work our way up.
For sedentary people, a similarly simple start is just getting up off the couch or the office chair and walking around the house or office.
Yes, simply being baseline non-sedentary reduces your risk of all those cancers along with all sorts of other bad health conditions.
But not as much as “moderate or vigorous” exercise like walking or jogging.
That’s why I always recommend that, wherever you start, you build on that baseline as you go.
From exercising one finger to five … from a walk around the house to a walk around the block. From jogging for five minutes to ten, twenty … you get the idea.
Best return on investment you can get
It’s simple—you get out of it what you put in. In fact, you get more. Putting in minutes can give you back years of health. No other investment can match that.
For most cancers, people who reported exercising moderately, even for a limited time, had much less risk of developing those 13 types of cancer than sedentary people.
The proof that more is better jumps right out of the data: More exercise means more risk reduction. Compared to the 10 percent of people who were least active, the top 10 percent—those who spent the most time in moderate or vigorous exercise—were as much as 20 percent less likely to develop most of the cancers in the study.
Find your inner mouse and child
“Exercise” still puts you off?
Let’s look at it differently.
A lab mouse in a cage with a running wheel will use it—even when there’s no food or other reward.
Why? Because it’s in a cage with nothing else to do?
A Danish team set up a running wheel for mice in the wild. Did they jump on it like their lab cousins do?
But … why?
OK, what do kids love? They love running, tumbling, and wrestling until they’re out of breath.
Why? Because their bodies thrive on it, even urges them to do it. And when you’re a kid, the world doesn’t just let you do it—it legislates that you must have space and time to do it.
OK, now you’re a grownup. Sitting in an office chair, or on a couch at home. For hours.
Gravity drags your blood circulation downward to your middle and your butt. Your entire system slows down and gets less efficient.
Even when you move, it’s only when you have to. Get another coffee, go a meeting, get lunch.
Do you run, skip, dance along the way? No, probably not.
This is not what your body needs to stay healthy.
Grow back down. Run, skip, jump.
Playtime with benefits
The problem is that exercise has been framed as like taking medicine. Even the word “work” in “I’m going to work out” is a deterrent.
Instead, how about “I’m going out to play?”
Exercise is playtime for your body—with great benefits.
A happy drug without a drug
To give you even more incentive to exercise—I mean to play—it stimulates endorphin production. They’re your body’s way of making you feel oh, so, good. They make you feel euphoric, via the same response mechanisms as opiate drugs.
Who doesn’t want to feel euphoric? That alone should be reason to get on with your routine.
Exercise without exercise
For a powerful and easy routine, try the ancient Asian practices of tai chi, yoga, or chi gong. No fast movements, no heavy lifting, just slow stretching and balancing.
The health benefits are profound.
I recommend that your first goal, if you’re new to exercise, is moderate exercise, like a 30 minute walk every day, working your way up from 5–10 minutes.
Instead of (or better, along with) the walk, I recommend tai chi, qi gong or yoga, working up to an hour a day.
If you’re already in an exercise groove, be thankful for all these new reasons to keep it up.
- The Economist.“A run a day keeps the tumour at bay“
- Zielinski “Mice really do like to run in wheels.”
- Meijer J, Robbers Y. “Wheel running in the wild.“ Published 21 May 2014.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0210
- Scheve T. “Is there a link between exercise and happiness?“ 22 June 2009.
- HowStuffWorks.com. 26 June 2016
Last Updated: February 4, 2020
Originally Published: July 20, 2016