Physical activity during adolescence can lower risk of the disease, and if you continue moderate, daily physical exercise well into adulthood, the results are particularly dramatic.
Published in the British Journal of Cancer, the research looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, one of the largest investigations into major chronic disease risk. Researchers analyzed data on 28,250 women aged 25 to 42, examining the long-term effects of physical activity, nutrition, and hormones, among other health factors.
They found that those who reported at least an hour of physical activity per day from age 12 to 22 had reduced risk of adenoma—polyps considered a precursor of colorectal cancer—by 7%, compared to those with lower activity amounts. Physical activity that started in adulthood reduced risk by 9%.
But for those who started being active as teens and continued that hour-plus-daily activity streak? They had the biggest benefit of all: They reduced their adenoma risk by 24%.
The takeaway here is that there’s a cumulative effect of physical activity as you age, according to study co-author Leandro Rezende, D.Sc., Ph.D.(c), of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Starting physical activity at any age is advantageous for numerous reasons, including better colorectal health, he told Runner’s World, and the longer you maintain that activity, the better off you’ll be.
“Physical activity reduces the risk of colon cancer by several biological mechanisms,” he said. “Weight management and control are likely the most important, because it impacts insulin resistance and inflammation that are involved in the promotion and progression of cancer.”
Although this study didn’t look at whether activity intensity or frequency made a bigger difference, Rezende said previous studies have shown that moderate-to-vigorous activity is associated with lower bowel cancer risks, as well as lower risk for breast and endometrium cancers.
Plus, recent studies suggest you don’t need to get your exercise in big exercise blocks, or even in 10-minute-plus increments, as previously believed. Even small bursts of activity can add up.
“The more activity you get, especially if you do it every day, and at higher levels, the more of an impact on cancer prevention you’re likely to see,”
Chadwick Boseman, the actor who starred in Marvel’s Black Panther, died in late August at age 43 after a private 4-year battle with colon cancer.
Boseman’s death came as a shock to fans worldwide. He had never publicly spoken about the illness.
In the past three decades, research has consistently found rising rates of colon cancer and related illnesses like rectal cancer among younger people.
People older than 50 are still at a greater risk of developing colon cancer overall. However, people under 50 are more often diagnosed with hard-to-treat, advanced forms of the disease.
If caught early, colon cancer is very treatable, and the five-year relative survival rate is about 90% if the cancer doesn’t spread, according to the American Cancer Society.
But it’s common for people to have no symptoms until the later stages of the illness. That’s why it’s important to get screened regularly, especially if you have risk factors.
Read more about colon cancer Here.