We’ve all heard the age old tips: eat a balanced diet, avoid tobacco use, consume alcohol in moderation and exercise regularly. These activities are known to promote a healthy life and aid in preventing cancer. While these tips are seemingly straightforward, one in particular has prompted an ongoing debate. Exercise has been proven to reduce one’s risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancer. The form of exercise, however, is rarely specified. While the advice to keep active is discussed frequently, the actual type of exercise isn’t typically mentioned.
A research team at the University of Sydney assembled a research team to find out which form of exercise is the most effective at preventing cancer. After studying 80,000 adults, the team concluded that strength training is more effective at prolonging life than cardio workouts. The study successfully factored in a myriad of health variables, such as age, health status and lifestyle. Even when accounting for these factors, the study found that strength training twice a week reduced the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31%. In fact, the overall likelihood for any type of premature death decreased by 23%. Combining both strength training and cardio workouts had the best outcomes, and it was unclear as to how beneficial cardio was on its own.
It can be difficult to begin strength training without previous experience or formal instruction. Cardio exercise can easily be introduced to one’s daily life by cycling or jogging – it’s easy to get started and typically doesn’t require the same amount of time or effort associated with weight training. People looking to make health conscious decisions in their daily lives can incorporate cardio by adding brisk walks or even starting their day with jumping jacks. Luckily, strength training can be just as convenient as cardio workouts. While free weights and workout machines are great tools, strength training can be completed without any equipment. For example, planks, push-ups, squats, and crunches can be done from the comfort of one’s living room.
Despite inconclusive results in the study, cardio exercise clearly still yields health benefits. Both strength training and cardio are recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recently, the CDC found that few Americans are getting enough exercise each week. Adults are encouraged to get 2.5 hours of moderate cardio exercise weekly (or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise), and it is recommended that adults strength train two times per week. The CDC studied Americans aged 18-64 for five years and found that 45% of the population were not hitting either benchmark. While some adults successfully followed one of the guidelines, only 23% were reaching both of the CDC’s cardio and strength training goals.
Exercise is a key factor in preventing cancer. It aids in lowering the levels of hormones such as estrogen and insulin. This is beneficial because increased levels of these hormones have been proven to correlate with cancer development and progression. Exercise also helps in reducing inflammation and improving the immune system, which allows the body to properly function and ward off disease. Keeping an active lifestyle even when diagnosed with cancer can yield positive outcomes. It slows weight gain, which is a common side effect of treatment. Incorporating exercise into one’s daily routine has also been found to decrease the likelihood of recurrence in some cancers, such as breast cancer. As spring is rapidly approaching, there’s no better time to take advantage of the fresh air, take care of your body and get some exercise!
- National Cancer Institute. (2017). Physical Activity and Cancer. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet
- Stamatakis, Emmanuel, et al. (2017). Does Strength-Promoting Exercise Confer Unique Health Benefits?. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/187/5/1102/4582884?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- Blackwell, Debra L., et al. (2018). State Variation in Meeting the 2008 Federal Guidelines. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr112.pdf
- World Health Organization. (2015). Physical Activity and Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Want to live longer and better? Do strength training. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/want-to-live-longer-and-better-strength-train