A new study at Tel Aviv University found that aerobic exercise can cut by 72% the chance of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
According to the researchers, high-intensity aerobic exercise makes internal organs use more glucose (sugar), which makes less energy available to the tumor.
Two researchers from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine led the study: Prof. Carmit Levy from the Department of Human Genetics and Biochemistry and Dr. Yftach Gepner from the School of Public Health and the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute. Prof. Levy says that the new study at TAU has made a very important discovery by combining scientific knowledge from different schools. This discovery could help stop metastatic cancer, which is the leading cause of death in Israel.
Prof. Levy and Dr. Gepner: “Studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of some types of cancer by up to 35%. This is a good effect that is similar to how exercise helps people with heart disease and diabetes. In this study, we added new information by showing that high-intensity aerobic exercise, which gets its energy from sugar, can cut the risk of metastatic cancer by as much as 72%.
“Up until now, the general message to the public has been, ‘Be active and stay healthy.’ Now we can explain how aerobic activity can help prevent the most aggressive and spreadable types of cancer the most.
The study used a mouse model in which mice were trained to do exercises according to a strict schedule. It also looked at data from healthy volunteers before and after they ran.
Human data from an epidemiological study that followed 3,000 people for about 20 years showed that those who did regular high-intensity aerobic activity had 72% less metastatic cancer than those who didn’t do any physical activity.
The same thing happened with the animal model, which also helped researchers figure out how it worked. When they took samples of the internal organs of healthy animals before and after exercise, as well as after giving them cancer, they found that aerobic activity cut down on the growth of metastatic tumors in the lymph nodes, lungs, and liver by a lot.
The researchers thought that this good result happened because exercise increased the rate at which glucose was burned. This was true for both people and model animals.
Prof. Levy said, “Our study is the first to look at how exercise affects the organs inside the body where metastases tend to form, like the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes.”
“When we looked at the cells of these organs, we saw that the number of glucose receptors went up during high-intensity aerobic activity. This made the organs better at taking in glucose and using it to get energy, just like muscles.
“We think this happens because the organs have to compete for sugar with the muscles, which are known to burn a lot of glucose when they work out.”
So, if a person gets cancer, the fierce competition for glucose makes it harder for them to get the energy they need to spread. Also, if a person works out regularly, this change is permanent: the tissues of their organs change and become more like muscle tissue. We all know that playing sports and working out are good for our health.
“When we looked at the organs inside the body for our study, we found that exercise changes the whole body so that the cancer can’t spread and the main tumor shrinks.”
The researchers thought that this good result happened because exercise increased the rate at which glucose was burned. This was true for both people and model animals. Image is free for anyone to use.
Dr. Gepner adds, “Our results show that it is a high-intensity aerobic activity that helps prevent cancer, which is different from fat-burning exercise, which is more moderate.” If the best intensity range for burning fat is between 65 and 75% of the maximum pulse rate, then the best intensity range for burning sugar is between 80 and 85%, even if it’s just for a short time.
“For example, you could sprint for one minute, then walk for one minute, and then sprint again. In the past, these kinds of intervals were mostly used by athletes to train, but now they are also used in other types of exercise, like heart and lung rehabilitation.
“Our results show that healthy people should add high-intensity exercises to their fitness plans.” We think that future studies will make it possible to use personalized medicine to prevent certain types of cancer. For example, a doctor could look at a patient’s family history to suggest the right kind of physical activity.
“It must be said that physical exercise, with its unique effects on metabolism and physiology, prevents cancer better than any drug or medical treatment we have so far.”