According to a recent study, the likelihood of metastatic spread of cancer can be reduced by 72% by aerobic exercise. The amount of glucose (sugar) consumed by internal organs increases during intense aerobic exercise, the researchers say, which decreases the amount of energy available to the tumor. (Also read: A popular dietary supplement may cause cancer: Research)
The study was led by two researchers from the Sackler School of Medicine at TAU: Professor Carmit Levy from the Department of Human Genetics and Biochemistry and Dr. Yftach Gepner from the School of Public Health and the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute. Professor Levy points out that by combining scientific know-how from different schools of TAU, the new study has led to a very important finding that could help prevent metastatic cancer – the leading cause of death in Israel. The article was published in the prestigious journal Cancer Research and chosen for the cover of the November 2022 issue.
Pr Levy and Dr Gepner: “Studies have shown that physical exercise reduces the risk of certain types of cancer by up to 35%. This positive effect is similar to the impact of exercise on other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. In this study, we added new information, showing that high-intensity aerobic exercise, which derives its energy from sugar, can reduce the risk of metastatic cancer by up to 72%. If until now the general message to the public has been “active, be healthy”, we can now explain how aerobic activity can maximize the prevention of the most aggressive and metastatic types of cancer.”
The study combined an animal model in which mice were trained on a strict exercise regimen, with data from healthy human volunteers examined before and after running. Human data, obtained from an epidemiological study that followed 3,000 people for approximately 20 years, indicated 72% less metastatic cancer in participants who reported regular high-intensity aerobic activity, compared to those who have not engaged in physical exercise.
The animal model showed a similar result, also allowing researchers to identify its underlying mechanism. By sampling the internal organs of physically fit animals before and after exercise, as well as after cancer injection, they found that aerobic activity significantly reduced the development of metastatic tumors in the lymph nodes, the lungs and the liver. The researchers hypothesized that in humans and animal models, this favorable outcome is related to the exercise-induced increase in the rate of glucose consumption.
Pr Levy: “Our study is the first to investigate the impact of exercise on the internal organs in which metastases usually develop, such as the lungs, liver and lymph nodes. By examining the cells of these organs, we found an increase in the number of glucose receptors during high-intensity aerobic activity – increasing glucose supply and turning organs into efficient energy-consuming machines, just like muscles. because the organs must compete for sugar resources with the muscles, which are known to burn large amounts of glucose during physical exercise. Therefore, if cancer develops, the fierce competition for glucose reduces the availability of the energy essential for metastasis.
In addition, when a person exercises regularly, this condition becomes permanent: the tissues of the internal organs change and become similar to muscle tissue. We all know that sport and physical exercise are good for our health. Our study, looking at internal organs, found that exercise changes the whole body so that cancer cannot spread and the size of the primary tumor also decreases.”
Dr Gepner added: “Our results indicate that unlike fat-burning exercise, which is relatively moderate, it is high-intensity aerobic activity that helps prevent cancer. If the range of he optimal intensity for fat burning is 65-70% of maximum pulse, sugar burning requires 80-85% – even if only for short intervals.
For example: a one-minute sprint followed by a walk, then another sprint. In the past, these intervals were mostly typical of athlete training regimens, but today we also see them in other exercise programs, such as cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Our results suggest that healthy individuals should also include high-intensity components in their fitness programs. We believe that future studies will enable personalized medicine to prevent specific cancers, with doctors looking at family history to recommend the right kind of physical activity. It must be emphasized that physical exercise, with its unique metabolic and physiological effects, exhibits a higher level of cancer prevention than any drug or medical intervention to date.”
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