Exercise increases energy, boosts mood, and promotes better sleep. But did you know it can also aid in the prevention of colon cancer? According to research, even small amounts of moderate exercise reduce risk and significantly help those who have already been diagnosed with the disease.
“In general, studies have shown that those who are more physically active and have an exercise routine have lower cancer rates,” says Dr. David Bodkin, a board-certified oncologist, and hematologist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Although the link between physical activity and avoiding colon cancer is undeniable, the precise reason is less clear.
For the first time, researchers have pinpointed how exercise can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer and slow tumor growth. Newcastle University researchers discovered that physical activity causes the cancer-fighting protein interleukin-6 (IL-6) to be released into the bloodstream, where it aids in the repair of damaged cells’ DNA.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, shed new light on the importance of moderate activity in the fight against life-threatening illness and may aid in the development of future treatments.
Our findings are particularly exciting because they reveal a previously unknown mechanism underlying how physical activity reduces the risk of bowel cancer that is not dependent on weight loss. Understanding these mechanisms better could aid in the development of more precise cancer prevention exercise guidelines.Dr. Sam Orange
“Previous scientific evidence suggests that more exercise is better for reducing bowel cancer risk as the more physical activity people do, the lower their chances of getting it,” said Dr. Sam Orange, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Newcastle University.
“Our findings support this hypothesis.” When cancer-fighting substances, such as IL-6, are released into the bloodstream on a regular basis, they have the opportunity to interact with abnormal cells, repairing their DNA and slowing their growth into cancer.”
In the small-scale study, which is proof of principle, the team from Newcastle and York St John universities recruited 16 men aged 50-80, all of whom had lifestyle risk factors for bowel cancer, such as being overweight or obese and not physically active.
After providing an initial blood sample, the participants cycled for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity on indoor bikes, and a second blood sample was taken as soon as they finished pedaling. On a separate day, scientists took additional blood samples before and after the participants rested as a control measure. The exercise was tested to see if it changed the concentration of cancer-fighting proteins in the blood when compared to resting samples, and it was discovered that there was an increase in IL-6 protein.
In a lab, scientists mixed the blood samples with bowel cancer cells and tracked cell growth for 48 hours. They discovered that blood samples taken immediately after exercise slowed the growth of cancer cells compared to those taken at rest. Furthermore, the exercise blood samples reduced the extent of DNA damage, implying that physical activity can repair cells to create a genetically stable cell type.
Dr. Orange stated: “Our findings are particularly exciting because they reveal a previously unknown mechanism underlying how physical activity reduces the risk of bowel cancer that is not dependent on weight loss. Understanding these mechanisms better could aid in the development of more precise cancer prevention exercise guidelines. It may also aid in the development of drug treatments that mimic some of the health benefits of exercise. Physical activity of any type and duration can improve health and lower the risk of bowel cancer, but more is always better. Sedentary people should start by moving more and look for ways to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.”
“Importantly, it is not just bowel cancer risk that can be reduced by leading a more active lifestyle,” said Dr Adam Odell, Senior Lecturer in Biosciences at York St John University, who was also involved in the study alongside Dr Alastair Jordan and Dr Owen Kavanagh. “Higher levels of exercise have been linked to a lower risk of developing other cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancer. By elucidating a mechanism by which regular physical activity can produce anti-cancer effects, our study adds to current national and global efforts to increase exercise participation.”
Bowel cancer prevalence
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United Kingdom, accounting for 11% of all new cancer cases. Every year, approximately 42,900 people are diagnosed in the United Kingdom, which equates to nearly 120 people every day. Physical activity is thought to reduce the risk by approximately 20%. It can be accomplished by going to the gym, participating in sports, or engaging in active transportation such as walking or biking to work, but it can also be accomplished as part of household tasks or work such as gardening or cleaning.
The researchers plan to conduct additional research to determine how exercise reduces DNA damage in early-stage cancers and to determine the most effective form of exercise for disease prevention.