Health

The Link between Physical Fitness and Reduced Cancer Rates

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According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death across the globe, accounting for millions of deaths worldwide, and the American Cancer Society believes that men have about a 50 percent chance of developing some type of cancer at some point in their life.

 

        Cancer incidences are expected to increase by 45 percent in the United States over the course of the next twenty years and, across the entire world, cancer incidences are expected to increase by closer to 70 percent. Interestingly, many researchers believe that the majority of cancer cases are actually linked to lifestyle choices, which means that many forms of cancer are completely preventable. One study, for example, shows that one way of avoiding cancer is to improve the health of your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles by increasing their capacity to support the body during times of physical stress.

        The ability of your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles to support you is measured in cardiorespiratory fitness.

        Physical activity is the best way to help you to improve your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles and research shows that poor cardiorespiratory fitness can lead to cardiovascular diseases and a decreased life span. Some studies even show that it is more likely to cause death than smoking, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. Cardiorespiratory fitness is not generally used for cancer prevention, but recent research suggests that poor cardiorespiratory fitness is a good cancer risk indicator and, therefore, increased fitness might also be a good way of preventing cancer.

man intense run on treadmill         The recent study documented thousands of adult men. Nearly 90 percent of these men had some sort of cardiac or metabolic health concern, including cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary diseases, diabetes, and a history of smoking. However, they were also known to have been engaging in intense cardio workouts during the thirteen years before the study took place. The scientists found that these men were four percent less likely to develop cancer. Those who were in especially good shape and engaged in the most cardio workouts were between 14 and 26 percent less likely to get cancer. Cancer incidences were definitely more likely to occur among older individuals, but even when age was taken into account, the study found that poor cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of developing cancer.

        The mechanisms involved are still unknown, but a number of hypotheses exist about how poor cardiorespiratory fitness could increase your risk of getting cancer. Some believe that it might increase how sensitive your body is to the effects of insulin. Insulin is responsible for lowering the sugar content of your blood, so the better your body is at doing this, the more sensitive you are to insulin.

        Staying fit is a good way to increase insulin sensitivity because it will help you to move sugar out of your bloodstream and into your muscles.

        However, when you have low insulin sensitivity (or insulin resistance) your body will try to produce more insulin to compensate, which can lead to damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, obesity, and osteoporosis. It can also lead to cancer because, for a number of reasons that are largely still not fully understood, high levels of insulin can promote tumor growth.

        Others believe that cardiorespiratory fitness can reduce your risk of chronic inflammation, which is caused by certain pathogens or autoimmune disorders. It can lead to a number of health concerns, including cancer because it can seriously damage the affected tissue and, ultimately, damage your DNA. Therefore, some research has shown that aspirin and other anti-inflammatory agents might actually be able to lower your risk of cancer. Improving your fitness can also stimulate your muscles to release natural anti-inflammatory agents, which means fitness can also be associated with a reduced risk of developing cancer.

        Additionally, increased fitness can help to regulate the sex steroid hormone balance in your body.

        An imbalance of certain sex steroid hormones can result in cancer, especially prostate cancer. However, increased cardiorespiratory fitness can help to regulate your body’s production of sex steroid hormones, which could help to maintain a healthy hormone balance and, therefore, prevent prostate cancer. The study did not have a large enough sample size to document how cardiorespiratory fitness could affect specific types of cancer. However, a reduction in prostate cancer risk would still contribute to the decrease in cancer risk overall.

woman flexing for cancer prevention        The research specifically shows that serious treadmill workouts can help to prevent cancer, but jumping rope, jumping jacks, stair climbing, any form of running, and engagement in certain sports can get your heart racing enough to give you a good cardio workout. Other research shows that high intensity exercise is required if you want your muscles to produce sufficient amounts of anti-inflammatory agents. However, even if you do engage in serious cardio workout routines, the positive effects of the routine can be undermined if you also engage in long sedentary periods because prolonged lack of physical activity is shown to increase your risk of cancer.

        Cigarette smoking, poor diet, and obesity have all be long associated with cancer, which is why many forms of cancer are actually preventable.

        Exercise can prevent obesity and is often linked to good overall health. Therefore, it is no surprise research shows that cardiorespiratory fitness can result in a significant cancer reduction risk. This research, along with similar studies, adds to the mounting evidence that cancer is not necessarily the random and unpredictable condition that everybody once thought it was. Part of the fear surrounding cancer is that it can strike anyone at any moment, but this is largely not the case. Of course, unlucky genetics can play in role in giving you cancer, but about two thirds of cancer incidences are still completely preventable.

        As with any study, this study had a number of limitations, but it is largely consistent with the growing body of research on the correlation between poor overall health and increased cancer risk. Nobody is saying that staying fit is a surefire method of stopping you from getting cancer. However, it will still probably reduce your risks.

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