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Get Moving To Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer
By Jeffrey Juneau, MD
Regular exercise has been proven to have numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. But it’s also been specifically linked to the prevention of colorectal cancer.
Since early studies in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers have been aware of the link, but a 2019 study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed a direct correlation between physical activity and reduced risk of colorectal cancer. The study revealed that people who participate in regular exercise may be 23% less likely to develop precancerous growths in the colon. They’re also 27% less likely to develop the most aggressive types of precancerous growths that have the greatest potential to progress into cancer.
Although the relationship behind this connection is unclear, there are a few theories among researchers:
- Physical activity may improve digestion through increased blood flow and circulation, which could reduce the time carcinogens are in the digestive tract.
- Exercise helps lower blood sugar, which may in turn help the body more efficiently use insulin and convert glucose into energy. High insulin levels are responsible for tumor cell division and growth.
- Increased water intake associated with exercising may soften gut contents, decreasing the time carcinogens are in the colon.
No matter the connection, it’s evident that exercise can help both men and women reduce their chances of developing colorectal cancer, particularly those who are at higher risk due to factors such as a family history of the disease.
How Much Exercise Is Needed?
Additional studies suggest that higher levels of physical activity are necessary to lower the risk of colorectal cancer. The recommended amount is 30 to 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-activity exercise per day.
Moderate-intensity exercise can be measured by the following occurring after about 10 minutes of participating in the activity:
- Your breathing is rapid, but you’re not out of breath.
- You can still carry on a conversation.
- You’re sweating slightly.
Examples of moderate activity include brisk walking, dancing, doing yardwork, hiking, and bike riding.
Vigorous-intensity exercise can be measured by the following occurring after about 10 minutes of participating in the activity:
- Your breathing is rapid and deep. You are close to feeling out of breath.
- You can’t say more than a few words without having to pause to take a breath.
- You’re sweating significantly.
Examples of vigorous activity include running, playing tennis, jumping rope, playing soccer, and hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack.
It’s never too early or too late to begin incorporating exercise into your daily routine to lower your chances of developing colorectal cancer. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, particularly one that includes higher-intensity activity.
Another important part of prevention is beginning colon cancer screenings starting at age 45. If you have certain factors that increase your risk of colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened earlier.