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Exercise curbs cancer, say experts

Regular physical activity plays a significant role in helping to reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer, according to the Cancer Society of Finland. New guidelines by the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim stress the role of exercise in reducing the risk of cancer more than ever before.

Nainen kävelee rantapolulla
Going for a brisk walk five times a week is recommended. Image: Kirsi Matson-Mäkelä / Yle

According to the Cancer Society of Finland, exercise and a healthy diet can prevent a third of the most common cancers.

Eeva Ollila, senior physician with the Cancer Society of Finland, says the evidence that exercise helps prevent many forms of cancer is clear. 

"At this point we know for certain that exercise helps prevent breast cancer, colon cancer, and uterine cancer. There is also evidence of (prevention of) other types of cancers," she says.

Regular physical activity is estimated to decrease the risk of colon cancer by 40 percent. For women who exercise at least 7 hours a week, their risk of breast cancer decreases by 25 percent.

New guidelines by the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim emphasise the importance of exercise in reducing the risk of cancer more than ever before.

How does it work?

While the exact mechanism of how physical activity decreases cancer risk is unclear, regular physical activity helps to maintain weight control, reduces low-grade inflammation and insulin sensitivity.

For breast cancer, positive research results have been achieved with intense daily exercise.

"Whereas for colon cancer, even a small amount of exercise helps reduce risks," according to Ollila.

Recommendation for more movement

Professor Rainer Rauramaa from the Kuopio sports medicine faculty of the University of Eastern Finland says the general exercise guidelines of half an hour of brisk walking or similar activity 5 times a week could be supplemented with an additional half hour of physical activity per week.

"Put your sneakers on and get moving," he recommends.

More than 15,000 women and 16,000 men are diagnosed with cancer each year in Finland.  

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