"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

How exercise strengthens your body's ability to stop cancer

October 4, 2023 – 45 minutes of intense exercise 3 times per week may reduce the danger of cancer in patients with Lynch syndrome, a genetic disorder that may result in cancer at a young age.

The Amount of exercise The immune system is best in a position to fight cancer cells, researchers on the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found. The intervention – 45 minutes of high-intensity cycling 3 days per week – was inherently targeted, said oncologist Eduardo Vilar-Sanchez, MD, PhD, professor of clinical cancer prevention and lead creator of the study.

“We wanted to be very specific with our recommendation,” he said. “People don't follow vague lifestyle advice like 'just exercise.' We wanted to link a specific biological effect to a very concrete intervention.”

The study was small (only 21 people), however it is predicated on a considerable amount of evidence linking regular exercise to a reduced risk of cancer, especially colon cancer. But researchers at MD Anderson went a step further and examined How Exercise could reduce the danger of cancer.

Exercise and the immune system

All 21 people within the study suffered from Lynch syndrome and were divided into two groups. One received a 12-month exercise program, the opposite didn't. The scientists checked their cardiovascular and respiratory health and observed immune cells – natural killer cells and CD8+ T cells – within the blood and colon tissue.

“These are the immune cells responsible for attacking foreign bodies such as cancer cells,” said Vilar-Sanchez, “and they were more active in the participants who exercised.”

The participants within the training group also saw a decrease in the extent of the inflammatory marker prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). This decrease was closely linked to the rise in immune cells. Both changes indicate a stronger immune response.

The researchers consider that the changes are related to an enhancement of the body’s own “immune surveillance system,” which detects and eliminates cells that otherwise become cancerous.

Building on previous research

Science already provides numerous evidence that regular exercise will help prevent cancer. Systematic review 2019 The study, which involved greater than 45 studies and several other million people, found strong evidence that physical activity can reduce the danger of several varieties of cancer, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and stomach cancer, by as much as 20%.

But the MD Anderson study is the primary to point out a link between exercise and changes in immune biomarkers, the researchers said. “It's one thing to have the epidemiological link, but it's quite another to know the biological basis,” said Xavier Llor, MD, PhD, director of the GI Cancer Prevention Program at Yale Cancer Center and professor of medication at Yale School of Medicine. (Llor was not involved within the study.)

Two previous studies checked out exercise and inflammatory markers in healthy people and in those with a history of colon polyps, but neither study produced meaningful results. The success of this latest study could also be on account of the more intense exercise or additional colon tissue samples. But technological advances also now allow for more sensitive measurements, the researchers said.

What you need to know

Vilar-Sanchez is hesitant to increase the study results beyond individuals with Lynch syndrome, but is optimistic that they may apply to the final population.

Llor agrees: “Exercise may protect against other types of cancer through some of these mechanisms,” he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, greater than 15% of all cancer deaths (excluding tobacco-related cancers) within the United States are on account of lifestyle aspects, including physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol consumption and poor weight loss plan. It recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to scale back cancer risk. Study participants showed a big immune response with 135 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.

“The public should be aware that engaging in any form of physical activity somehow lead to effects in cancer prevention,” said Vilar-Sanchez.