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Can exercise help prevent cancer?

Updated on June 11, 2007

Scientific studies have shown that exercise is associated with longevity and can protect against heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, but the effect of exercise in preventing cancer, the second leading cause of death, is less certain. Although the study of exercise and cancer is still in its infancy, what is becoming increasingly clear is that many cancers are preventable through exercise.

While everyone is well aware that proper diet and exercise are paramount to good health, still many people find it too much of an inconvenience to watch what they eat and to exercise. These people may feel that the benefits that they may get from all that effort is not worth the hassles of watching calories, cutting fat, running about, and moving weights around. But what if there was a benefit, and I mean a real good benefit, associated with proper diet and exercise? Maybe that would at least make those who don't worry about diet and exercise give a little more thought to it.

Well, as if the already known benefits of proper diet and exercise aren't enough to make some people want to incorporate them into their lives, perhaps the following information from Purdue University and Science Daily will be enough incentive to get them off their duff's and give it a try.

According to Dennis Savaiano, dean of Purdue's school of consumer and family sciences and professor of foods and nutrition, 'poor diet and lack of exercise are responsible for just as many cases of cancer as cigarette smoking'.

He says, "approximately one third of cancer cases are related to smoking, one third is related to poor diet and lack of exercise, and one third is related to genetic or other factors".

Most people are already well aware of the ill health effects of cigarette smoking, but the percentage of obesity and the rate of poor diet in America is a cause for serious concern. It is estimated that 65% of Americans are overweight with 30% being at least clinically obese. This is further escalated by the fact that 15 to 20% of the children in America are considered overweight. The main reason for this alarming statistic overall is the rate of poor diet seen in America.

Savaiano, who is chairman of the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance, along with several other members of the organization, recently reviewed scientific studies on diet and cancer. The group has since issued a statement urging Americans to change their diets in order to help reduce the number of cancer related deaths.

While Savaiano notes that some types of cancer are influenced more by diet than others, nutrition and food scientists agree that these four methods are practical ways to lower the risk of cancer:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Avoid highly processed foods that are high in fat and sugar.
  • Limit or avoid consumption of alcohol.
  • Get in some moderate or vigorous exercise daily.

Much of the reason why people have trouble getting into a healthy lifestyle can be attributed to lack of knowledge on how to start with exercise programs and proper diet plans, and to marketing which is mostly geared toward foods that are high in fat and excess calories and low in nutritional value. Not much marketing is done to promote fruits and vegetables or whole grains.

Long hours at work also attribute to less meal preparation and more fast food and takeout food purchases. It will take some effort on your part, but making healthier food choices and exercise a part of your life can and most likely will give you rewards that no amount of money can buy.

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