Healthy living

Exercise cuts risk of bowel cancer polyps

Exercise cuts risk of bowel cancer polyps Reduces risk by a third

People who are physically active are up to three times less likely to develop polyps in the bowel, which can develop into bowel cancer, according to a new study.

US scientists analysed data from 20 studies which looked at the association between exercise and the development of bowel polyps.

Growths in the bowel are fairly common, especially as we age. About 1 in 4 of us have one or more by age 50, and around half of us have them by the time we reach 70. Although polyps are not cancerous, they can develop into bowel cancer over time.

In the study, scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis found that people who took regular exercise were 16 per cent less likely to develop bowel polyps, and 30 per cent less likely to develop large or advanced polyps, the type which are more likely to develop into cancer.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK after breast and lung cancer, with more than 38,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year.

Professor Kathleen Wolin, who led the study, said: “We’ve long known that an active lifestyle can protect against bowel cancer, but this study is the first to look at all the available evidence and show that a reduction in bowel polyps is the most likely explanation for this.

“Exercise has many benefits, including boosting the immune system, decreasing inflammation in the bowel and helping to reduce insulin levels – all factors which we know are likely to have an effect on bowel polyp risk.

“We hope these results will encourage more people to enjoy the many benefits of regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, including a reduction in bowel cancer risk.”

The findings supports past research by the same team, which showed that people who are physically active can reduce their risk of bowel cancer by a quarter.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Evidence shows that keeping active could help to prevent thousands of cases of cancer every year and this study adds weight to evidence showing regular exercise can substantially cut the risk of bowel cancer.

“We’d recommend doing at least half an hour’s moderate exercise a day – such as brisk walking or anything that leaves you slightly out of breath. Getting enough physical activity will also help you keep a healthy weight, which is one of the most important ways of reducing the risk of cancer.”

The study findings are published in the British Journal of Cancer.

This article was published on Wed 2 March 2011

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