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PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND CANCER


The World Health Organization defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by the musculoskeletal system that requires energy expenditure. Therefore, physical activity does not only refer to exercise, but also to all those daily activities that require a physical effort. To get any health benefits the effort should be moderate or intense.


I have wrote other articles about how physical activity brings health benefits especially to people who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes. In the following paragraphs I want to tell you about the relationship between physical activity and tumours.


Physical activity and cancer risk

Observational studies, that is studies in which individuals are observed or certain outcomes are measured, have demonstrated a causal connection between physical activity and cancer risk. Indeed, an inversely proportional relationship has been highlighted whereby high levels of physical activity are linked to a decreased risk of developing various types of cancer.


The table below shows in what percentage high levels of physical activity can decrease the risk of developing some forms of cancer.


AREA AFFECTED BY CANCER

RISK REDUCTION IN HIGHLY ACTIVE INDIVIDUALS

Bladder

↓15%

Breast

↓12-21%

Colon

↓19%

Endometrial

↓20%

Esophageal

↓21%

Kidney

↓12-23%

Stomach

↓19%


The risk reduction is the result of the many benefits offered by physical activity.


Specifically, exercising reduces hormone levels and growth factors associated with cancer development and progression, prevents high insulin levels in blood (which have been linked to cancer development and progression), reduces inflammation, improves the immune system, decreases the exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to the bile acids, reduces the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system (resulting in decreased exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to possible carcinogens), and helps prevent obesity, that has been shown to be a risk factor for many types of cancer.


Furthermore, practicing physical activity not only reduces the risk of cancer in healthy subjects, but prevents the development of relapses in subjects who have already suffered from this disease in the past. Research tells us that all those who have suffered from cancer should practice and maintain a certain level of physical activity. Indeed, there is strong evidence that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and weight training during and after cancer treatment can reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue and improve the quality of life.


How much physical activity?

The recommended amount of physical activity to achieve substantial health benefits and reduce the risk of chronic diseases (including cancer) in adults ranges from 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Alternatively, you can do 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week or combine the equivalent of each intensity.

Weight training should be practiced at least 2 days a week with the addition of some exercises to train balance.


In the beginning, the idea of exercising and tiring your body can be scary, especially if you are not confident with exercise or suffered from cancer before. Starting with simple and light activities, like walking or gardening, is the first step for a healthy life. Start with 5-10 minutes per day then increase the activity time week by week until you reach the recommended amount of exercise. If you want to go beyond and training with weight as well, I suggest to speak with a professional who can assess and guide you on what is the best pathway for you and your specific situation.

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