Study: intense aerobic exercise lowers cancer risk by 72%

by Jacob Fuller

FISM News, Bethany Roberts 


Intense aerobic exercises increase glucose consumption in organs, reducing the risk of metastatic cancer by a whopping 72%, according to a new study by two researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) published in the November 2022 issue of “Cancer Research.”

Professor Carmit Levy and Dr. Yftach Gepner determined that the consumption of glucose, or sugar, by internal organs reduces the availability of energy to any cancerous tumors, thus preventing them from growing.

“If the general message to the public so far has been ‘be active, be healthy,’ now we can explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer,” Levy and Gepner wrote.

The study combined two lab models, one with healthy human volunteers and one with animals injected with melanoma cancer cells. Both models exhibited a similar outcome, which helped the team draw more reliable data. Data from a little less than 3,000 people was monitored for about 20 years.

The data was obtained via epidemiological studies and the results indicate 72% less metastatic cancer in participants who were regularly doing intense aerobic activities.

“Physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any medication or medical intervention to date,” Gepner said.

Since the animal model produced similar results, the researchers were able to identify the underlying reason for the reduction. Aerobic activities can significantly reduce the development of metastatic tumors in lymph nodes, lungs, and even the liver. The data shows that the increased rate of glucose consumption in the organs is induced by this type of exercise.

“Our study is the first to investigate the impact of exercise on the internal organs in which metastases usually develop, like the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes,” Levy said.

High-intensity aerobic activity induces a rise in the number of glucose receptors in the cells of those organs. This effectively turns organs into energy consumers like muscles. The researchers believe this is due to the organs needing to compete for sugar against the muscles. This competition reduces the availability of energy, which inhibits the metastasis process significantly.

“Simply put, exercise ‘reprograms’ our organs to require more nutrients,” Erica Rees-Punia, Ph.D., MPH, a senior principal scientist in epidemiology and behavioral research at the American Cancer Society told Medical News Today. “At the same time, healthy organs of exercisers are more easily able to outcompete cancer cells (specifically melanoma cells, in the case of this study) for nutrients. This leaves fewer nutrients available for the tumor to use to grow.”

Not only does this high-intensity exercise help relatively quickly, but it also can become a permanent change if the individual does it regularly. The actual tissue undergoes a change to become more like muscle tissue.

“We all know that sports and physical exercise are good for our health,” Levy said. “Our study, examining the internal organs, discovered that exercise changes the whole body so that the cancer cannot spread, and the primary tumor also shrinks in size.”

TAU has several schools that are studying cancerous cells and, specifically, metastatic cancer. Levy said that by combining the knowledge that each school has gained, they may be able to prevent metastatic cancer.

“Our results indicate that unlike fat-burning exercise, which is relatively moderate, it is a high-intensity aerobic activity that helps in cancer prevention,” Gepner said.

“We believe that future studies will enable personalized medicine for preventing specific cancers, with physicians reviewing family histories to recommend the right kind of physical activity,” Gepner added.

While the study recommends running as the ideal exercise, it can be difficult depending on age and physical ability. Other exercises such as swimming or rowing can also provide intensity without putting strain on the body.

James Hicks, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California Irvine, said even moderate exercise can have a protective effect against cancer.

“Hundreds of epidemiological studies, comprised of millions of participants, provide strong evidence that regular, daily activities like brisk walking significantly reduce the risks of many cancers,” Hicks said. “These results show 10 to 20 percent risk reductions for bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, and renal and gastric cancers.”