The relationship between cancer and exercise

You’ve probably heard so many conflicting reports and findings about cancer and cancer prevention. It’s hard to keep up and to know what to believe and what to ignore.

Without trying to give you an intense medical lesson, cancer basically comes down to some of the body’s cells starting to divide without stopping and spreading into surrounding tissues forming growths called tumours.

Now, while it’s normal for human cells to grow and divide to form new cells as old cells grow old or become damaged, in the case of cancer, cells become more and more abnormal thanks to old or damaged cells surviving when they should die, and new cells forming when they are not really needed.

Researchers are of the opinion that approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data). In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents between the ages of 0-19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 lost their lives as a result.

What brings on cancer?

Even though great strides have been made with regards to cancer diagnosis and treatment, cancer research is still a very high priority across the globe and, in many cases, what is known about cancer prevention is still evolving.

However, it’s widely accepted that a person’s chances of developing cancer are affected by the lifestyle choices they make.

Tobacco is probably the number one culprit when it comes to cancer. It is, however definitely not the only. Our general health and fitness also play a role.

The relationship between increased cancer risk and being overweight is undeniable. One of the main ways is that excess weight causes the body to produce and circulate more oestrogen and insulin – both hormones that can stimulate cancer growth. Obesity is, in fact, the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could be prevented.

How your diet and exercise can influence cancer

Some foods, such as processed and red meat and salt-preserved foods, as well as refined carbohydrate foods, including pastries, candy, sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, and other high-sugar foods can increase the risk of developing cancer.

So, sticking to a healthy, balanced diet, paired with regular exercise, is key to keeping a healthy body weight. Whether you want to prevent cancer or have been diagnosed with cancer, regular exercise boosts our immune systems and is important for overall vitality.

Some researchers believe maintaining a healthy weight can lower the risk of various types of cancer, including breast, prostate, lung, colon, and kidney cancer.

In addition to your weight under control, physical activity on its own might lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.

For substantial health benefits, it is recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week.

Another option is to do a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine — the more you can do, the better.

Will eating sugar make cancer worse?

Although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear. However, a high-sugar diet may contribute to excess weight gain, and obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer.

Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer?

Researchers have conducted studies on the safety of the artificial sweeteners (sugar substitutes) saccharin; cyclamate; aspartame; acesulfame potassium; sucralose; and neotame and found no evidence that they cause cancer.

Besides quitting smoking, some of the most important things you can do to help reduce your cancer risk are:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Exercise on a regular basis.
  • Make healthy food choices with a focus on plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables and foods high in fibre, can reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Eat smaller portions when eating high-calorie foods.
  • Choose vegetables, whole fruit, legumes such as peas and beans, and other low-calorie foods instead of calorie-dense foods such as French fries, potato and other chips, ice cream, doughnuts, and other sweets.
  • Limit your intake of sugary drinks such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and juice.
  • Choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and if you do eat red meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.

What it comes down to is that you’re not likely to have to worry about too much exercise causing cancer but rather pay attention to living a healthy, balanced life. Daily habits like diet and exercise affect your risk for cancer much more than you might think. Remember that poor diet and not being active are the two key factors that can increase your risk of getting cancer. The good news is that you can do something about this. Wise, healthy lifestyle choices can make a big difference.

About My Health and Fitness

My Health and Fitness is a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more! If you would like to become part of our content team as a health and fitness professional, please email us at info@myhealthandfitness.co.za.

Disclaimer

Please consult your medical practitioner before embarking on an exercise programme.

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