How Exercise Triggers Your Immune System to Fight Cancer

We all know regular exercise can improve overall health and help protect us from disease. Many previous studies have shown exercise can reduce the risk of cancer, but a new study has discovered how exercise can help protect against this deadly disease. 

Cancer cells develop in your body everyday. The key to your ability to stop cancer from developing is “cancer surveillance” performed by the immune system. The immune system is like a security guard. It has to recognize a foreign intruder, such as a cancer cell, and remove it before it has a chance to grow into a deadly tumor.

This small study followed 16 people who had survived cancer, all but one of whom had just finished receiving chemotherapy. Researchers took blood samples from the study participants so they could analyze their numbers of senescent and naive T cells (senescent T cells aren’t great at fighting against disease, while naive T cells are).

The study participants then completed a 12-week exercise program consisting of cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility exercises. At the end of the program, researchers took another blood sample to check their T cell levels again.

Researchers found that in most of the study participants, exercise changed T cells from the less effective cancer fighting senescent T cells to the more effective cancer fighting naive T cells.

“What we’re suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren’t helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful,” said researcher Laura Bilek, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in a statement.

“If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves cancer surveillance, it’s one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives,” she added.