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Can exercise help prevent cancer?

Six steps toward a more active lifestyle

Fitting an exercise program into your schedule doesn’t have to involve a large checkbook or even a lot of time. Known as “lifestyle workouts,” the following list was created for even the busiest people:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. This alternative burns calories and tones muscles. If your destination is several stories away, walk several flights and ride the rest.
  2. Avoid e-mail. At work, walk down the hallway rather than use e-mail to contact a co-worker.
  3. Walk instead of drive. It may not be the speediest mode of transportation, but it’s effective when you want to visit a neighbor down the street, take your child to a nearby park or pick up a couple of items at the corner market.
  4. Walk during lunch. Take a friend for company or listen to a book on tape to make your walk mentally as well as physically productive.
  5. Clean the house. You’ll have to do more than load the dishwasher to get your heart pumping, but a vigorous cleaning that takes two to three hours may be just what the doctor ordered (and you’ll have something to show for it in the end).
  6. Ride your bike. It’s faster than walking, cheaper than driving and it burns calories.

If you need a reason to begin an exercise program, this may be the news to get you up and running.

Regular, moderate physical activity plays a role in preventing or delaying the development of certain cancers, including cancers of the breast, cervix, uterus, vagina, prostate, colon and lungs.

The link between exercise and breast-cancer risk, for instance, has received a lot of attention. A 2003 study conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women who engaged in regular, moderate physical activity were about 20 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than sedentary women.

Leading an active life may help your body fight cancer in several ways. One theory is that physically active people regularly produce higher levels of “natural killer” blood cells (NK-cells). These white blood cells are believed to be one of the immune system’s primary defenses against cancer. NK-cells aside, it’s true that physically fit, active people have stronger immune systems, which also lowers their odds of getting cancer.

Another way that exercise helps fight cancer is by speeding up metabolism. An increased metabolic rate quickly and effectively eliminates toxins through the kidneys, liver, skin and colon. Exercise also causes digestive wastes to flow through the colon more quickly, giving potential cancer-causing agents less time to make contact with sensitive colon tissue.

In women, the hormone estrogen has been linked to breast-tumor production. It triggers cells in the breast to divide. (It has a similar effect on the lining of the uterus, which can lead to uterine cancer.) The more cells divide, the higher the risk that a malignancy will develop. Exercise is thought to reduce a woman’s exposure to estrogen, thus reducing her risk of cancer.

The message is clear: Exercise is a simple way to keep yourself healthy. Not only can it protect you from illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, but it can reduce your risk of cancer as well.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media