Your health and safety is our top priority. Get COVID-19 info, vaccine news and see our no-visitor policy.

Can Exercise Reduce the Risk of Cancer? 

The evidence continues to mount that the couch-potato life may be a shorter one than the physically active life. At least regular exercise may help you reduce your risk for cancer.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark did a study to better understand how exercise can both boost immunity and protect the body against cancer.

They learned that exercise may change how our immune system reacts to cancer. The researchers found exercise increases the amount of adrenaline in our bodies. It also causes a spike in certain immune cells and other substances in our bodies. These reactions to exercise seem to work together to stop or reduce the severity of cancer.

To learn more, scientists carefully tracked cancer rates in adult laboratory mice that had a high risk for skin cancer.

The group of mice used for the study generally like to run, so the scientists gave one sample group running wheels for their cages. Another sample group didn’t have running wheels.

Upon studying cancer development, fewer exercising mice had developed melanoma skin cancer than the mice without a wheel. Additionally, the exercising mice that were diagnosed with cancer had fewer and smaller lesions (cancer causes lesions).

Additional tests found that exercising appeared to at least partially inoculate the mice against cancer.

What Was Different in the Exercising Mice?

The researchers found the exercisers had higher levels of adrenaline in their blood. Their levels were high right after exercise and were found to be high other times of day. Our bodies naturally release adrenaline in response to any type of stress, including exercise.

The study also found that the exercising mice had much higher blood levels of what are known as natural killer cells. These immune cells are known as powerful cancer fighters.

Scientists have more to learn about how adrenalin and the natural killer cells work to lower cancer risk, but the initial findings have promise.

Of course mice and people are different, but other research has already found that in humans, moderate exercise has been shown to boost adrenaline and the production of natural immune cells. If exercise can prompt these changes and the changes can help us reduce our chances of cancer, it’s easy to conclude that exercise is a good thing.

If you exercise, you should keep it up. If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. This would be a good time to get going!

Before starting an exercise program, check in with your health care professional so you know you’re ready to go and can do it safely.

Meet the Author

Richard Lusis, MD is an Internal Medicine Physician at Aurora Advanced Healthcare in Cedar Creek and Mequon, Wisconsin

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

Get engaging health and wellness insights emailed to you daily.

Check it out now

Recent Posts

How Meditation Can Help Cancer Patients

After Beating Cancer, What's Next? The New Normal

What Are the Latest Colorectal Cancer Guidelines?

Find a Doctor Find a Location