Date Published: 2 March 2011

Exercise cuts risk of potentially cancerous bowel polyps by up to 30%

Recent research suggests that people who have an active lifestyle are significantly less likely to develop large or advanced polyps in the bowel (which can develop into bowel cancer).

The research reported today was carried out by scientists based at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (USA), who pooled data from 20 previous studies, resulting in the most accurate figures currently available. This data indicates that low levels of exercise levels are correlated with increased incidence of bowel polyps.

The researchers found that those people who took regular exercise were 16% less likely to develop bowel polyps, and 30% less likely to develop large or advanced polyps - the form considered most likely to develop into bowel cancer. This result supports an earlier analysis by the same group, which indicated that people who are physically active may reduce their risk of bowel cancer by approximately 25%.

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

Lead author Professor Kathleen Wolin, based at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, 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."

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."

Reference to Paper:
Wolin K., et al, Physical activity and risk of colon adenoma: a meta-analysis (2011), British Journal of Cancer, doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6606045

Source: Cancer Research UK (Press Release).

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