How to Prevent Cancer
A Cancer Survival Journey

How to Prevent Cancer with Regular Exercise

+ Pamela Friedman

Most people are interested in how to prevent cancer.

We know that eating a healthy diet can help and that it’s best to avoid smoking.

We also know that exercise is a good thing, but it can be tough to stick to an exercise routine.

February is National Cancer Prevention month, and a recent study shows that high-intensity exercise may reduce the risk of cancer by a whopping 72 percent.

We wanted to tell you about this study and help you recommit to your regular exercise routine. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health and longevity!

How to Prevent Cancer: What the Study Found

For the study, researchers examined data from a large group of adults who were initially cancer-free. They were looking at how exercise impacts the health of internal organs like the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes—where cancer often begins.

Previous studies had demonstrated that physical exercise reduces the risk for some types of cancer by up to 35 percent. In this study, the scientists found that high-intensity aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by as much as 72 percent.

Metastatic cancer is a type of cancer that spreads from its site of origin to another part of the body. These are the more dangerous types of cancer that often can’t be cured but only managed.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from about 3,000 human adults followed for about 20 years. They also used data from an animal study, comparing the results of both.

By doing it this way, they were able to identify exactly how the exercise was benefitting these internal organs. They found that the number of glucose receptors—those cells that take in glucose from the foods we eat—increased during high-intensity aerobic activity. This increased glucose intake and turned the organs into effective energy-consumption machines, much like the muscles.

“We assume that this happens because the organs must compete for sugar resources with the muscles,” study author Carmit Levy stated in a press release, “known to burn large quantities of glucose during physical exercise.” This fierce competition for glucose leaves little left for any cancerous cells or tumors.

Better yet, the study found that when a person exercises regularly, this condition becomes permanent: the tissues of the internal organs change and become similar to muscle tissue. This makes it more difficult for cancer to spread, and can also shrink any existing tumors.

Woman Exercise

How to Prevent Cancer: What Is High-Intensity Exercise?

Considering the results of this study, you may wonder what type of exercise would qualify as high-intensity aerobic exercise. Is this a type of exercise you can do?

The researchers referred to it as a “sugar-burning” exercise, explaining that it requires a maximum pulse rate of 80-85 percent. In comparison, the range for fat-burning exercise is 65-70 percent.

But that doesn’t mean you have to maintain that high pulse rate the entire time you’re exercising. Instead, we’re talking about incorporating intervals of high intensity into your regular workout.

The researchers suggested this example: a one-minute sprint followed by walking, then another sprint.

You may know this type of exercise as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It is an exercise trend that became popular a few years ago and continues to have a strong presence at gyms and in online workout classes.

HIIT features short bursts of high-intensity exercise that lasts for 1-4 minutes, interspersed with periods of lower-intensity exercise or rest. This type of workout is known to boost cardiovascular fitness, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and help you burn more fat in less time.

Other examples of this type of workout include:

  • Stationary bike sprints
  • Rower sprints
  • Hill sprints
  • Boxing rounds
  • Bodyweight circuits (where you do things like burpees, squats, and mountain climbers)

How to Prevent Cancer: Is High-Intensity Exercise for You?

Several studies have shown the health benefits of high-intensity exercise, but it is possible to overdo it.

So-called “excessive training”—which typically consists of doing a HIIT workout every day—can impair glucose tolerance and create oxidative stress in the body, which is friendly to cancer development. It increases your risk of muscle, ligament, and joint injuries too, and can cause sleep problems.

Too much HIIT can also spike your cortisol levels—the body’s stress hormone—which isn’t good for your health or your skin.

Ideally, most health experts recommend you schedule at least one rest or low-intensity day between your HIIT workouts. That leaves you with 2-3 intense workouts a week, each lasting no more than 30 minutes, with the key being to give yourself time to rest and recover in between workouts. If you can manage that sort of routine, your health will likely improve.

If you find that your intense workouts are making you feel worse than you did before, however, or that they shrink your motivation to exercise, they may not be right for you.

Man Exercise

How to Prevent Cancer: The Important Thing is to Exercise Regularly

Findings like these are exciting, as it’s empowering to know that we can help improve our health and extend our vitality by making healthy choices.

On the other hand, we each respond to exercise in our own unique ways. The most important thing is to choose a type of exercise that you enjoy and will stick with over the long term.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest adults should get at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (walking, biking), 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (HIIT, running, spinning), or a combination of each every week. (The guidelines also suggest muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.)

Keep in mind, too, that many other factors go into reducing your risk of cancer. Exercise is a big one, but so is avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, and taking care of your mental health.

What steps do you take to prevent cancer?

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