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May 7, 2012 | 2 minute read

Increasing Stress May Up Cancer Risk: Motivation to Move

Stressed out about your stress levels? Sometimes it’s a vicious cycle. Deadlines, bills, global warming…it seems there is a laundry list of things to feel stressed about.

The bad news: Now there’s evidence that stress can increase your risk of cancer.

In a study published in the April 16 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mice that were restrained (a huge stressor) and then exposed to radiation developed more tumors than unrestrained mice that were exposed to radiation. The researchers found that a class of hormones called glucocorticoids was elevated in the restrained (stressed) mice. Glucocorticoids suppress  p53—a key protein that plays an important role in the prevention of tumors.

Here’s the abstract for the study.

The good news: There’s a “drug” for stress—exercise!

In a recent review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, exercise was  compared to a drug—with recommended dosing, frequency, benefits, and side effects. Here’s the abstract.

The reviewers pointed out that regular, moderate to vigorous exercise leads to an increase in beta-endorphins in the brain.  Beta-endorphins are neurotransmitters linked to psychological and physiological changes that affect mood, pain perception, and our body’s response to stress hormones.

Exercise also improves memory and sleep quality.  When we feel more rested, we handle day-to-day stresses better.

AICR’s expert report and its continuous updates also linked physical activity to lower risk of post-menopausal breast, endometrial, and colorectal cancers.

Whether you find the social interaction provided in an exercise class contributes to your well-being or you prefer the solitude of a long, peaceful bike ride, take some time today to get some exercise.  You’ll feel less stressed and reduce your risk of cancer.

Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, RD, is a nutrition and health communications consultant with a long-time interest in the intersection of nutrition, exercise, and wellness.

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