The exercise experts use to beat bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the second most common diagnosed cancer in Australia for both men and women. In 2015 it is estimated that over 17,000 of us will be diagnosed with bowel cancer resulting in 4,120 deaths.

The upside is that despite the prevalence of it being detected, bowel cancer is believed to be one of the most preventable through lifestyle modification. Research has found that populations that move from countries of low to high incidence of bowel cancer adopt the rates of the host country due to a change in lifestyle.

History of exercise and bowel cancer research

Bowel cancer is one of the most extensively studied cancers in relation to physical activity. An initial study in the 60’s found that individuals working in occupations characterized by outdoor physical work had greater protection compared to sedentary roles. This has been further supported by additional research consistently finding that adults that increased exercise intensity, duration or frequency can reduce their risk by 30% – 40% compared to sedentary individuals. The largest reductions are found in those who are the most active with the magnitude of protective effects greatest with high-intensity activity.

These results are believed to be the result of several physiological benefits of exercise that have compounding effects. Exercise increases the immune system, decreases obesity and abdominal fat stores, improves insulin regulation, improves hormone metabolism all of which can reduce inflammation and exposure to carcinogens. The anti-inflammatory effect exercise has shown to reduce the size and number of polyps, predominately benign growths that have the potential to become cancerous.
exercising with lymphedema

So how much exercise is enough?

First of all something is always better than nothing but research shows that at least 20 minutes per day with greater benefits in excess of 30 minutes. Both aerobic and resistance training elicit benefits with more research supporting aerobic exercise. Vigorous exercise has a greater impact than moderate intensity exercise, an easy way to gauge this is to monitor your exertion levels on a scale of 1 – 10, aim for an intensity of 7 or greater.

Exercise Right recommends

  • Anything is better than nothing. Committing to a drastic exercise routine can be daunting so make your first goal to get out and get moving.
  • Start small and build. Start with a walk, then extend your time, then add some periods of jogging, then extend your jog time, then try some interval training!
  • Get a fitness tracker. Some smart phones already have built in functions, use the apps to track your daily activity levels and use this as motivation to improve.
  • Find your thing. We each have different motivators for exercise, some of us prefer structured solo activity, others social sports or recreational activities
  • Make it fun. Challenge yourself, include family or friends, find an active hobby

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Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015). Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books: Bowel cancer. Canberra: AIHW.

Bilski, J., Brzozowski, B., Mazur-Bialy, A., Sliwowski, Z. & Brzozowski, T. (2014). The Role of Physical Exercise in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. BioMed Research International. Volume 2014, Article ID 429031, 1-14

Slattery, L. (2004). Physical Activity and Colorectal Cancer. Sports Medicine, 34 (4): 239-252.

Wolin, K. Y., Yan, Y., Colditz, G. A. & Lee, I-M (2009). Physical activity and colon cancer prevention: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Cancer, 100: 611 – 616