Exercising Regularly Could Lower Your Cancer Risk By 77 Percent

By: Lauren Wicks

A new study from John Hopkins University found the higher one's fitness level, the more protected they were against certain cancers.

We all know exercise comes with some pretty amazing benefits—it can help you lose weight, increase strength and boost immunity to name a few. But most of us don't do it enough.

Whether it's through lack of motivation or time in our hectic schedules, 77 percent of Americans don't incorporate enough exercise into the week. But as difficult as it can be to squeeze in extra movement, a new study from Johns Hopkins gives us another crucial reason to try.

Researchers analyzed the data from the Henry Ford Health System, where 49,143 patients between the ages of 40-70 were referred by a doctor to undergo exercise-stress testing—a pretty accurate measure of one's cardiorespiratory fitness. These patients were then split up into four groups based on their physical fitness levels. None of the patients began the testing with cancer, but over years of follow-up, researchers found 388 cases of lung cancer and 220 cases of colorectal cancer.

The study showed those in the fittest group had a 77 percent lower risk of lung cancer and a 61 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer than the least fit group. Any amount of fitness made a difference, but each level was related to an increasingly lower risk of both types of cancer.

Related: 6 Cancer-Fighting Foods to Add to Your Diet

Additionally, those who were diagnosed with either cancer saw a significantly greater protective effect the higher their fitness level was. Those with colorectal cancer with the highest level of physical fitness were 89 percent less likely to die than the least fit group, and those with lung cancer were 44 percent less likely.

Frankly, the study's authors can't quite put their finger on what the connection is between one's fitness level and such a drastically lower cancer and mortality risk. However, they theorize it could be due to either improved respiratory function, decreased bowel transit time or lowered systemic inflammation. And these are all wonderful benefits to experience from exercise!

Related: Doing This Easy Form of Exercise Can Help You Lose Weight Faster

It's important to note here that this study isn't saying you can simply beat cancer through exercise. But it seems being fit has a connection with overall better health—including in ways that don't immediately come to mind.

Looking to get more fit? Try increasing what you're currently doing in incremental amounts. If you're currently inactive, start walking, or sign up for a Couch-to-5K program. If you're a walking warrior, try taking a hike once a week or mix jogging in every few minutes to your usual routine. If you run or lift weights and are in a bit of a rut, try increasing the intensity little by little to work your way up to a higher level of physical fitness. The more you exercise and the more you challenge yourself, the higher your fitness level will be. Just be sure to know your limits and listen to your body!

Someone stretches their leg

Image: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions