It’s more than a way to keep your weight down – exercise also helps reduce your risk of cancer and many other health problems. Find out why, and how much exercise you need

Some people assume that weight control is the only reason to work out. While studies have found that exercise is effective in helping to maintain weight loss, it’s not the only reason to work up a sweat – exercise can help boost your mood, brainpower, bone health and reduce your risk of cancer.

A study published in the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease found that even a mere 30 minutes of exercise per week has the potential to significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Another study found that women who exercise for 150 minutes a week or more may see a reduced risk of endometrial cancer, regardless of whether or not they are overweight.

Exercise may play a role in reducing the growth of colon cancer cells, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Physiology.

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Researchers reported that after a short session of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), the growth of colon cancer cells was reduced.

For breast cancer survivors, exercise and avoiding weight gain has been identified in the Canadian Medical Association Journal as the most important lifestyle choices to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

Signs of breast cancer (other than a lump)

How exercise wards off cancer

A mouse-based study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that mice who regularly ran on a wheel (the mouse version of a treadmill) decreased the growth of multiple types of tumours, including skin, liver and lung cancers.

In addition, they found that mice who exercised regularly had a smaller chance of developing cancer in the first place.

So how does exercise ward off cancer? According to the researchers, the explanation for the anti-cancer effects of exercise is the release of adrenaline (also called epinephrine).

During exercise, adrenaline is produced, this in turn mobilises immune cells, specifically one called a natural killer (NK) cell. These NK cells patrol the body, like a little anti-cancer army, and are recruited to the site of the tumour by the protein IL-6, secreted by active muscle. From there they can infiltrate the tumour and slow or completely prevent its growth.

Don’t exercise at the expense of sleep

Setting the alarm for 4 am so you can work out before your family gets up may sound admirable, but it’s no good if it causes you to get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

A 2008 study found that although regular exercise can lower a woman’s overall risk of cancer, a lack of sleep can undermine exercise’s cancer prevention benefits.

6 Surprising ways to prevent cancer

Get moving

As more research comes in about the health benefits of exercise, rest and the dangers of living a sedentary life, it’s clear that we are born to move.

According to current health guidelines, we should all be getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week to support good health.

It sounds like a lot, but if you break that down it’s only 21 minutes a day.

If you currently don’t have an exercise plan, now is the time to adopt one. You don’t need a gym membership – you can set up a home gym in even the smallest of spaces or follow free online workouts at home. You don’t even need equipment – you could simply go for regular brisk walks or dance to your favourite music.

Whatever you do, make it fun, schedule it like an important appointment, and every time you move, remember that what you’re doing could be life-saving.

How to create a home gym in a small space

Sources: American Society for Cell Biology, American Association for Cancer Research, Canadian Medical Association JournalThe Physiological Society, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute via Sciencedaily.com

This month we celebrate World Cancer Day (4 February). For more articles on the latest cancer research and prevention, click here. 

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.