Exercise, Cancer, and Telomeres
Next to nutrition exercise is our best medicine. Most of us are aware of its health benefits on the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and metabolic systems. But being physically active has two other benefits that are being studied more and more. This includes the benefits of exercise on cancer and its benefits on telomere health. So that is what we going to tackle today – exercise, cancer, and telomeres.
Physical activiy protects against cancer and protects telomeres. Short telomeres are associated with higher risks of cancer. Also, there are very few side effects with exercise compared to medications and even nutritional supplements.
Exercise Strengthens the Immune System
A critical step in the development of cancer involves the malfunctioning of the immune system which is designed to eliminate foreign invaders in the body including bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells – cancer cells.
T-cells represent some of the body’s immune protectors against infections and cancer.
A recent study showed that cancer survivors who exercised for 12 weeks after completing chemotherapy developed more effective T-cells against cancer and infections.
T-cells become senescent (old) following chemotherapy, but exercise seems to protect against this. In essence, exercise improves the number of functional T-cells following chemotherapy. Though chemotherapy destroys cancerous cells it also weakens the immune system – one reason why cancer survivors many times are at risk for other cancers. Exercise reduces the risks for second cancers and that may be related to enhance T-cell function.
Physical Activity and Telomeres
Recent studies from the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) show that psychological stress shortens telomeres – the very biologic markers of aging. Short telomeres are associated with a wide range of chronic diseases. Short telomeres are associated with higher levels of inflammation and increased physical activity provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
Based on one of UCSF’s studies it appears that being physically active diminishes perceived stress thus diminishing its impact on telomere shortening. A second UCSF study showed that sedentary women with a history of childhood abuse were more likely to have shorter telomeres. In fact, there was no link between childhood abuse and telomere length in women who are regularly physically active.
The reasons why exercise protects telomeres isn’t entirely clear, but some of its protective effects are likely to be related to the anti-inflammatory properties associated with exercise. Also, exercise modifies some of the other risk factors and unhealthy habits that contribute to telomere shortening.