Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer affecting older people in the UK today, and around 40,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year. Unlike many other types of cancer, which can affect all ages, 90% of bowel cancer sufferers are over the age of 60. As a result, it’s important to seek ways in which you can minimise your chances of developing the condition.
Can Exercise Make a Difference?
Cancer Research UK states that there is ‘good evidence’ to suggest that being physically active can actively help reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. It refers to a number of studies, with the largest piece of research indicating that regular exercise could reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as 25%. It also suggests that combining this with maintaining a healthy weight could reduce the risk even further, lowering the likelihood of developing the condition by 50%.
They indicate, however, that they’re unsure quite how exercise makes a difference; and tentatively speculate that it may be due to the effects of exercise on our waistlines. Generally, those who are obese are at a greater risk of developing bowel cancer than those who are a healthy weight.
Exploring the Link: Polyps in the Bowel?
Most forms of bowel cancer develop from polyps which form inside the bowel. Polyps in this area are very common indeed. In fact, around 25% of people over the age of 50 will have at least one polyp or more, and 50% of those aged 70 or over will have them. Most polyps are not cancerous. However, in certain instances, polyps can develop cancerous cells over time.
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis have explored the effect of regular low-level exercise on bowel polyps, and discovered a link between the two. Professor Kathleen Wolin, one of the lead researchers, states that they still remain unsure about exactly why exercise helps to reduce risk of cancerous cells forming on these polyps. She says: ‘There are a number of likely pathways but we don’t know exactly. So for example, exercise reduces inflammation in the bowel, which has been linked to bowel cancer.’
However, she also admits that ‘exercise reduces insulin levels and improves the body’s response to hyperinsulinaemia (excess levels of insulin circulating in the blood) which again increases polyp risk. It also enhances the immune system and because people who exercise often do so outside, they get vitamin D, which is also important for bowel cancer.’
Enjoying the Benefits
Whatever the exact nature of the link between exercise and bowel cancer, it’s safe to conclude that exercise is good for the body. In addition to potentially helping to protect against certain cancers, it helps to control your weight, reduces the chances of developing heart-related illnesses and improves mental wellbeing.
Even if it’s just low-level exercise, such as taking a fifteen minute walk each day, every bit of regular activity helps, and can cut your risk of developing health problems in later life.