(NaturalNews) We all know that regular exercise can certainly improve overall health in often immeasurable ways, but a new study suggests that it could also enhance your immune system and maybe even help protect against cancer.
The small study, conducted by researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, found that a large number of the immune T cells in cancer survivors managed to improve their ability to fight disease after they participated in an exercise class for 12 weeks.
"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.
'A variety of positive associations between exercise and cancer'
A press release from the American Physiological Society said the exercise program was implemented after patients finished chemotherapy, and that "their immune systems remodel themselves to become more effective, potentially fending off future incidences of cancer."
The new research, presented at the Integrative Biology of Exercise VI meeting Oct. 10-13, which was sponsored by the APS, has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal so the findings should be considered preliminary. Nevertheless, researchers said, "previous research had turned up a variety of positive associations between exercise and cancer - notably, that exercise can reduce the risk of getting initial incidences of several different types of cancers, can often improve prognosis in cancer patients, and can reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary cancers survivors of some types of cancers. However, the mechanism behind these phenomena has been unknown."
16 people who survived cancer were included in the study; all but one of whom had just finished chemotherapy. Researchers took initial blood samples from participants and analyzed the numbers of senescent and naive T cells (senescent T cells do not fight disease well, while naive T cells do).
Then, participants went through a 12-week program of exercise where they performed cardio, strength training and flexibility workouts. At the end of the program, researchers drew more blood samples to reexamine T cell levels.
Researchers discovered that in most participants, the ratios of their T cells changed from more senescent and fewer naive T cells to fewer senescent and more naive T cells.
'A litany of positive benefits from exercise'
"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," says Bilek, adding that the findings highlight the importance of exercise for everyone, including those suffering from cancer and especially cancer survivors. Both populations could benefit especially from the elevated "cancer surveillance" - the ability of the immune system to find and destroy potential cancers - that the study's findings suggest exercise brings.
"There's a litany of positive benefits from exercise," said Bilek. "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."
Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Cancer hinted that exercise may lower the risk of breast cancer, though scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said the best way to reduce risk for this disease is to maintain a healthy weight.