Regular exercise can significantly cut the risk of bowel cancer, research shows. Just 30 minutes of activity a day has been shown to reduce the chance of developing polyps – growths which can become cancerous – by a third.
Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine found that people who took regular exercise were 30 per cent less likely to develop the larger polyps most at risk of becoming cancerous.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at data from 20 previously published pieces of work.
Lead author Dr Kathleen Wolin said: ‘Exercise has many benefits, including boosting the immune system, decreasing inflammation in the bowel and helping to reduce insulin levels.’
Bowel cancer is the third most common form of the disease, and the second most common among women. There are around 38,600 cases a year in the UK.
The researchers analysed data from 20 existing studies and found people who lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to have growths.
People who took regular exercise were 16 per cent less likely to develop bowel polyps and 30 per cent less likely to develop large or advanced polyps which are more likely to develop into cancer.
Professor Wolin said: ‘We’ve long known that an active lifestyle can protect against bowel cancer but this study is the first to look at all the available evidence and show that a reduction in bowel polyps is the most likely explanation for this.
‘We hope these results will encourage more people to enjoy the many benefits of regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, including a reduction in bowel cancer risk.’
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: ‘It is also important that people take part in the screening programme, if eligible, as screening is an effective means of detecting polyps at an early stage.
‘These polyps can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.’
Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Evidence shows that keeping active could help to prevent thousands of cases of cancer every year and this study adds weight to evidence showing regular exercise can substantially cut the risk of bowel cancer.
‘We’d recommend doing at least half an hour’s moderate exercise a day - such as brisk walking or anything that leaves you slightly out of breath.
‘Getting enough physical activity will also help you keep a healthy weight, which is one of the most important ways of reducing the risk of cancer.’