Break a sweat to break your date with death. Hitting the gym can cause immune system changes that may help you fend off cancer, according to a new study from University of Nebraska.
Researchers analyzed the blood profiles of 16 cancer survivors before and after a 12-week exercise program, comparing their ratio of senescent T-cells—essentially worn-out immune cells—to naïve T-cells, which are immune cells that can fight off cancer.
Before the exercise program, the survivors’ blood profiles were dominated by senescent cells, but after 12 weeks of training, those levels dropped by 15 percent, says study author Laura Bilek, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Nebraska.
Here’s what happens: Cancer therapies do incredible damage to your immune system, and in your body’s rush to recover, it makes more senescent cells, which are easier to produce. The problem? Your body can only support a limited number of immune cells—having too many senescent cells around means there’s not enough room for the cancer-fighting kind.
That’s where exercise kicks in. Researchers aren’t quite sure how it does what it does, but exercise “pulls senescent cells out into the bloodstream and marks them for death,” Bilek explains. As a result, your body builds a new army of cancer-killing naïve cells. (Raise your carcinogen shields—and your overall health—with these 8 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Body.)
And not only can these cells stop cancer before it starts, they may improve your chance of survival if you’re already sick or taking the watchful waiting approach, says Bilek.
Bilek suggests combining a moderate intensity exercise regimen with resistance training—the same program the study participants underwent—for optimal health. (Running isn’t the only key to a death-defying lifestyle, of course. Click here for 50 Ways to Add Years to Your Life.)
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