By John Salak –
Cancer is a tough opponent. But keeping active through regular exercise has been recognized as a possible pathway to a better prognosis than inactive patients.
Now scientists may have found out why, which only goes to underscore the importance of working out in some fashion when confronting cancer.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that physical activity changes the metabolism of the immune system’s cytotoxic T cells, which improves the ability of these cells to to attack cancer cells. The initial research was conducted on mice, but the Swedish researchers believe that these lessons can be transferred over to why people suffering with cancer fair better if they stay physically active.
“The biology behind the positive effects of exercise can provide new insights into how the body maintains health as well as help us design and improve treatments against cancer,” reports Randall Johnson, professor at the institute and the study’s corresponding author.
While previous studies found a definite correlation between general health, fighting cancer and exercise, there was little understanding of why this occurred. Many speculated that physical activity activates the immune system, enhancing the body’s ability to prevent and counteract cancer growth.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet used this possible explanation as a launch point for examining how cytotoxic T cells, which are white blood cells specialized in killing cancer cells, respond to exercise. The researchers accomplished this by focusing on two sets of mice with cancer, one of which exercised regularly on spinning wheels and another which was largely inactive.
The results showed that cancer growth slowed and mortality decreased in animals that exercised on spinning wheels compared with the relatively inactive mice. In a related effort, Swedish researcher found that removing cytotoxic T cells from mice suffering from cancer decreased their prognosis and their survival rates.
“Our research shows that exercise affects the production of several molecules and metabolites that activate cancer-fighting immune cells and thereby inhibit cancer growth,” says Helene Rundqvist, the study’s first author. “We hope these results may contribute to a deeper understanding of how our lifestyle impacts our immune system and inform the development of new immunotherapies against cancer.”
The institute’s research may not be conclusive, but it does provide virtually everyone with another good reason to exercise.