Physical activity can help those with cancer, too


Exercise is not just for the physical impact on the body. It also has biological effects on the body, which is why physical activity is encouraged for individuals with certain cancers. Regular exercise lowers the levels of hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, which are often associated with cancer development and progression; prevents the development of insulin resistance; reduces inflammation; improves immune system function; and speeds up the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens.

While sedentary behavior has been linked to an increase in developing chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, studies have shown an increase in cancer mortality only in sedentary people with the least amount of physical activity. There is no definitive evidence that being sedentary leads to cancer.

Similarly, there is no evidence that physical activity helps protect against cancer. Yet, there is growing evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lower risks of several cancers. Most physically active individuals show a 24 percent reduced risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active.

Physical activity can help speed up the digestive process, eliminating waste faster, therefore reducing the amount of time the body has to absorb carcinogens and toxins.

Physical activity has also been associated with reduced breast cancer risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. And women who increase their physical activity after menopause have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who don't.

Being physically active after a cancer diagnosis has been linked to better outcomes. It can help with body image, quality of life, as well as decrease the risk of recurrence or progression.

Studies have shown that women who exercise moderately, walking for three to five hours a week, lowered their risk of recurrence by up to 50 percent.

Men with prostate cancer who engaged in vigorous activity for at least three hours per week had a 61 percent lower risk of death compared with men who engaged in less than one hour of vigorous activity per week.

While more research needs to be done to understand the relationship between physical activity and cancer, regular physical activity can help you feel better, improve strength and stamina and may reduce your risk of cancer or improve your quality of life after diagnosis.

Start off slow, and work your way up to the recommended 75 to 150 minutes a week. If you are unsure of where to start or need more support, look for local exercise programs for cancer survivors.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at or (803) 773-1404.