Combining muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise significantly lowers risk of death from cancer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Muscle strengthening exercises do a good job of cutting the risk of dying from cancer. However, a new study finds if you combine that workout with aerobic activities, the positive impact on your body doubles.

Researchers in Brazil say resistance workouts like squats, rowing, planks, and weight training lower a person’s risk of death from cancer by 14 percent. Adding aerobic exercise to the mix however, doubles that to 28 percent.

“Physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, but it was unclear what kinds of exercise had the best results. In our study, we found evidence that muscle strength training can not only reduce cancer incidence and mortality but also have an even better effect when associated with aerobic activities, such as walking, running, swimming and cycling,” says Leandro Rezende, a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Federal University of São Paulo’s Medical School (EPM-UNIFESP), in a media release.

What types of cancer does exercise prevent?

Researchers add that data shows physical activity in general helps to prevent breast, endometrial, stomach, throat, kidney, and bladder cancer. Specifically, the new study finds muscle strengthening can lower the risk of developing kidney cancer by 26 percent.

Unfortunately, the team did not find statistically significant links between muscle strengthening exercises and lowering the chances of tumors in the colon, prostate, lung, pancreas, bladder, esophagus, and rectum. Cancers such as melanoma, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, leukemia, or those in the digestive system also did not show noticeable improvement. Study authors note, however, much of this may be due to the limited number of studies on these areas.

A workout a day keeps the doctor away

Rezende’s team says their findings also back up the World Health Organization’s recommendations for weekly exercise. The agency suggests that adults engage in 150-300 minutes of moderately intense exercise, 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise, or some combination of both each week. WHO also recommends that adults do some form of strengthening exercises twice a week.

“The WHO’s recommendations are based on a number of benefits to health from physical activity, and our review of the literature showed that a reduced risk of dying from cancer is another benefit,” Rezende adds.

During the study, researchers reviewed 12 studies which examined nearly 1.3 million people for six to 25 years. Rezende notes that, until now, most studies on cancer prevention have focused on aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, most of the work to date involving muscle strengthening typically looks at its ability to improve specific health problems like high blood pressure or heart disease.

“Four years ago, we conducted a study that associated strength training with a reduced risk of cancer. Meanwhile, other studies have been published, and we thought it would be interesting to undertake a systematic review of this literature in order to appraise all the evidence on this relationship,” Rezende concludes. “However, we went further to show that the benefits of muscle strengthening exercises in terms of reducing cancer incidence and mortality can be magnified when they’re combined with aerobic exercises.”

The findings appear in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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