How Exercise Prevents Cancer

A recent study has shed light on the connection between exercise and cancer prevention, specifically in individuals with Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition associated with a heightened risk of early-onset cancer. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center discovered that engaging in intense exercise for just forty-five minutes, three times a week, can significantly reduce the risk of cancer in these patients.

The study’s findings revealed that this level of exercise had a profound impact on the immune system’s ability to combat cancer cells. All twenty-one participants in the study had Lynch syndrome and were divided into two groups: one received a 12-month exercise program, while the other did not. Researchers closely monitored their cardio and respiratory fitness levels and tracked immune cells, including natural killer cells and CD8+ T cells, in both their blood and colon tissues.


These immune cells play a crucial role in targeting foreign entities, such as cancer cells, and the exercise group exhibited heightened activity in these cells. Additionally, individuals in the exercise group experienced a decrease in the levels of the inflammatory marker prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), which was closely associated with the increased activity of immune cells. Both of these changes suggest a more robust immune response. Scientists believe these changes are linked to an enhanced “immune surveillance” system in the body, which helps detect and eliminate cells that could otherwise become cancerous.


Scientific evidence has long supported the idea that regular exercise can contribute to cancer prevention. A comprehensive systematic review conducted in 2019, comprising over 45 studies and several million people, provided strong evidence that exercise can reduce the risk of various cancers, including bladder, breast, colorectal, and gastric cancers, by as much as 20%.


According to the American Cancer Society, lifestyle factors, such as physical inactivity, excessive body weight, alcohol consumption, and poor nutrition, contribute to over 15% of cancer-related deaths in the United States (excluding tobacco-related cancers). To mitigate cancer risk, the society recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Remarkably, the study participants experienced a significant immune response with just 135 minutes of high intensity exercise each week.

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