Some train to become stronger. Some train to improve performance for a specific sport. Some just plain lift to look good naked. But whatever your goal, we all have one thing in common: every time we crush a workout, we’re murdering cancer cells. And that’s a damn good thing for long term health.
While it’s a frightening dose of reality, most of us who would be considered “cancer-free” do have small levels of cancerous cells developing regularly inside of us. It’s a natural, if unfortunate, part of our cells’ constant replication.
Old cells die, copies are made, and the new cells replace the old. Within a seven-year period, virtually every single cell in your body will die and be replaced with a copy of itself – right down to your bones. However, errors occasionally occur in the genetic code as thousands upon thousands of cells endlessly produce copies, and we wind up with mutant, cancerous cells.
What separates the “cancer-free” from those diagnosed as suffering from a cancer is in large part the body’s natural ability to rapidly find, fix and finish those cancer cells. On a miniature scale, this battle is played out every day inside us.
When the body kills cancer cells faster than they can replicate, the body remains healthy. If the body cannot for any reason… life becomes considerably harder.
Good news for all gym rats: research shows that every killer workout is a natural chemo-lite, amplifying our ability to destroy cancer cells.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen studied athletes with cancer who worked out intensively, drawing their blood before and after training.
The concentrations of adrenalin, noradrenalin and interleukine-6 (Il-6) were much higher in the blood that had been taken just after the workout. In addition, the researchers also observed that the concentrations of interleukine-8 (Il-8) and TNF-alpha were also higher.
These elevated levels all correlate with increasing the immune system’s effectiveness at finding and annihilating cancer cells. Exercise led to an increase in the number of Natural Killer cells (NK cells). Natural Killer cells are the immune system's shock troops. They are the first to attack any faulty cells or pathogens circulating in the body.
Hormone sensitive cancer cells were added to blood samples of individuals who did not train, as well as to the samples taken after the intense workouts. As predicted, in the athletes’ blood, the cancer cells shrunk, weakened, and died. Also of vital importance: the cancer cells were not able to replicate effectively in the post-workout blood samples.
A similar study was conducted using mice given aggressive melanoma that had metastasized throughout their bodies. One group remained sedentary; the other group exercised daily.
The mice made to run on a little mouse-treadmill produced higher levels of interleukin-1-beta, interleukin-6, interleukin-10 and TNF-alpha than those who did not exercise – similar to the human study discussed previously.
As anticipated, the mice who exercised successfully shrank the size of their cancer tumors.
Because exercise also produces increases in adrenalin (as mentioned in the human study earlier), researchers examining the mice took their work a step further to measure the exact role adrenalin plays.
When they used beta-blocker drugs to cancel out the increase in adrenalin, they found the cancer-killing effect of exercise plummeted.
Researchers also tried supplementing with interleukin-6 and interleukin-8 directly (i.e., also without the natural rise in adrenalin), but this too was ineffective compared to the response from exercise.
Our Natural Killer Immune Cells are activated to attack tumors and destroy cancerous cells by the specific combination of interleukin factors and adrenalin released during intense exercise.
While working out unfortunately isn’t a cure for cancer, the evidence strongly supports fitness as a powerful preventative measure.
Whether you train for aesthetics, strength, sport or just for fun, remember – you’re giving cancer the middle finger every time you lift.
Cell Metab. 2016 Mar 8;23(3):554-62.
Cancer Res Treat. 2016 Oct;159(3):469-79.