Regular exercise lowers your risk of 13 types of cancer

Regular physical activity dramatically reduces the risk of developing 13 types of cancer, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study pooled data from 12 US and European studies carried out between 1987 and 2004. It compared physical activity levels with the incidence rates of 26 different cancers.

Regular exercisers were 42 per cent less likely to develop oesophageal cancer, 26 per cent less likely to develop lung cancer, and 16 per cent less likely to develop colon cancer than people who did very little exercise.

These figures were reached by comparing the 10th percentile to the 90th percentile of participants grouped according to the amount of time they spent exercising.

Seven of the 12 studies focused on moderate exercise like brisk walking, dancing and gardening. Four of the studies concentrated on high-intensity exercise, such as running and competitive sports.

Researchers found that the link between inactivity and cancer remained regardless of body mass index or other lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol consumption.

During an 11-year period, 186,932 incidences of cancer were identified among the 1.4 million people in the study.

The research also reveals that 31 per cent of people worldwide are not meeting recommended levels of exercise, and that higher levels of physical activity reduce the risk of developing any cancer by seven per cent.

Dr Steven Moore, the study’s lead author, said: ‘These findings support promoting physical activity as a key component of population-wide cancer prevention and control efforts.’

Dr Marilie Gammon, who reviewed the study, said it showed that ‘high v low levels of physical activity engagement are associated with reduced risk of 13 cancer types (including three of the top four leading cancers among men and women worldwide).

‘The widespread generalisability of these findings is reinforced by the suggestion the associations persist regardless of BMI or smoking status.’

Instant analysis
This study puts forward a wider association between exercise rates and cancer than had previously been found — in the past exercise had only been linked to a decreased risk of endometrial cancer, colon and breast cancer. (Melanoma is the anomaly here, as exercise raises your risk. This is probably related to the amount of time spent outdoors.)

What causes this association is open to debate. The paper suggests the answer may lie in cell biology, pointing to a change in how our cells mediate stress, secrete hormones and control fat. Other possible factors are the reduction of inflammation, the improvement of immune function and a change in gastrointestinal transit time.

The study notes that there may be a significant amount of confounders, despite attempts to adjust for all known factors in cancer development. Self-reporting of exercise is also liable to bias.

All things noted, this is a study that states the bleeding obvious. Our bodies are designed to move: immobility kills. This paper extends what we already know about the positive health effects of regular exercise.
RM
Research score: 3/5


  • novo

    there’s not a single UCL researcher on the author list?

    Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland

    Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

    Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

    Genetic Epidemiology Group, Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki, Finland

    Department of Research, Cancer Registry of Norway, Institute of Population Based Cancer Research, Oslo, Norway

    Epidemiology Research Program, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia now with USAID Bureau for Global Health, Washington, DC

    Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Preventive Medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

    Information Management Services, Inc, Rockville, Maryland

    Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif, France

    Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London, England

    now with Section of Nutrition and Metabolism, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France

    Genetic Epidemiology Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Lyon, France

    Department of Biobank Research, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

    Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England

    Unit of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

    Division of Public Health Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri

    Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC

    • Mark Greaves

      Thanks for pointing that out. That error has been corrected.