Want to Look and Feel Better This Year While Lowering Your Cancer Risk? Get Moving

If you are among the millions of people who vowed to start the new year by getting in shape so you can look and feel great, there’s even more good news why you should amp up your exercise plan and stick with it.

Consistent exercise is associated with a lower risk of dying from colon cancer, according to a new study led by researchers at Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The study is the first to show that physical activity can make the disease less deadly.

The researchers teamed up with colleagues at the American Cancer Society to examine data from the Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II) to see if changes in physical activity affected the number of colon cancer diagnoses or the risk of death from the disease.

CPS II is a prospective cohort study that included 1.2 million men and women in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and sought to examine the impact of lifestyle and environmental factors on the cause of cancer.

For this study, the researchers compared more than 150,000 men and women's physical activity level between 1982 and 1997 and linked the activity levels to the number of colon cancer diagnoses between 1998 and 2005, and the number of colon cancer deaths between 1998 and 2006. It turned out that those who exercised consistently for at least 10 years had the lowest risk of colon cancer death.

“People wonder if leaving a sedentary lifestyle behind and beginning an exercise program will really help them to stay healthy or whether it's already too late. We found it is never too late to start exercising, but it’s also never too early to start being active,” said the study’s first author, Kathleen Y. Wolin, ScD, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Public Health Sciences.

Wolin said the benefits of starting an exercise program are not just preventing colon cancer and death from the disease, but also reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other cancers. She says the greatest benefits seem to accrue in those who have exercised for the largest percentage of their lives, but you don’t have to run marathons or live at the gym to achieve these health benefits.

If you want an enormous "bang for the buck" Wolin suggests taking a 30-minute walk everyday. “You’re going to reduce your risk of a number of diseases, and you will feel physically and mentally better and your function will improve.”

If you have received a cancer diagnosis, it’s not too late to get moving. There is mounting evidence that suggests being physically active can reduce cancer recurrence and death following a diagnosis, even if you have not been physically active in the past.

Lynette Summerill is an award winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, she pens Nonsmoking Nation, a blog following global tobacco news and events.