Lymphoma Prevention: Exercise & Physical Activity

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Having looked at lymphoma prevention from the perspective of environmental exposures and diet and nutrition, I'll now look towards prevention from the perspective of exercise and physical activity.

Exercise and Activity

It requires asserting that you can not prevent something from happening if you don't know what causes it to happen—which defines the mystery of cancer generally and lymphoma specifically—so we must extrapolate broad cancer prevention recommendations and presume that they are applicable to lymphoma.

In the mammoth "Preventability of Cancer by Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Weight Management" published jointly by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, researchers write:

"There is no reason to believe that [lymphoid cancers] might be affected by … physical activity in the same ways [as other cancers]."

The ACS

The American Cancer Society publication "Diet and activity factors that affect risk for certain cancers" does not mention lymphoma.

The LRF

The Lymphoma Research Foundaton notes that those who exercise regularly are likely better equipped to deal with anti-cancer treatments and makes similar recommendations along those lines, but does not suggest that exercise can specifically prevent lymphoma.

The LLS

Not even the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) will say directly that exercise or activity can prevent lymphoma.

That said, the LLS does promote and support the Team In Training (TNT) program, which encourages people to participate in marathons and similar endurance races by helping them train for them, but the TNT is primarily a fundraiser that also gets people off the couch and in better shape. Nowhere does it claim to contribute to lymphoma prevention.

How Much Exercise is Enough?

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has some direct language with regard to exercise and cancer prevention:

"Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Physical activity in any form helps to lower cancer risk. Aim to build more activity, like brisk walking, into your daily routine."

How does exercise contribute to the prevention of cancer? The AICR notes the following:

  • It helps you maintain a healthy weight, staving off the kind of weight gain that can raise one's cancer risk;
  • It maintains healthy hormone levels, as studies indidcate that some hormones, when at high levels, can increase cancer risk;
  • It could contribute to a stronger immune system;
  • It may contribute to a more active and healthy digestive system.

They offer you a choice: 30 minutes of somewhat vigorous activity each day, or 60 minutes of moderate activity. The American Cancer Society recommends 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

It would be nice if they actually defined the difference between moderate and vigorous activity, and in fact they do:

  • Moderate activity: "Anything that gets your heart beating a bit faster and makes you breathe more deeply – like brisk walking."
  • Vigorous activity: "Raising your heart rate so that you warm up, start to sweat and feel out of breath."

In Conclusion

Lymphoid cancers are notoriously slippery; risk factors have been determined but in most cases no one can with 100 percent certainty prevent lymphoma; the best any of us can do is follow the guidelines and recommendations established by decades of epidemiological research, because there simply is no direct evidence tying exercise to lymphoma prevention, but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence tying exercise to a host of things that promote physical and psychological well-being. Patients are encouraged to speak with their doctor or health care professional about what level of exercise makes the most sense for them.

Photo by John Nyboer

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