Can Running Help Prevent Cancer? How Regular Exercise Is Key to Your Health

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Seasoned and novice runners alike will sometimes point to the health benefits of running to explain what motivates them to hit the pavement or treadmill, only to end up right back where they started — breathless and disheveled. If it's any consolation for the tax of activity, science has taught us it's entirely true that jogging provides both mental and physical health benefits — and it can even lessen the chance of developing certain forms of cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, running can help a person maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of early death or death due to heart disease. Jogging regularly can also promote muscle, bone and joint health, lessen a person's chance of developing high blood pressure and encourage psychological health.

Read more: Scientists Have a New Way to Fight Cancer: Blowing It Up

"Researchers are learning that physical activity can also affect the risk of cancer," the NCI reports. "There is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. Several studies also have reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of cancers of the prostate, lung, and lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer)."

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While there's data to suggest physical exercise may reduce a person's risk of cancer, half of American adults may not see those benefits because they don't get enough regular exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So how much counts as "enough" exercise? The CDC reports adults should get moving for a total of two and a half hours per week if the pace is moderately intense (think: power walking), in addition to two or more days of strength training. 

Or, if the exercise is more vigorous, such as running, adults need an hour and 15 minutes of exercise per week in addition to those two or more days of strength training. Mixing a moderate and intense amount of aerobic activity for an equal time each week, in addition to two or more days of strength training, will also suffice, according to the CDC.

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Concerning running and cancer prevention, Runner's World points to findings published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2012 that suggest jogging may lessen a person's susceptibility to certain forms of cancer. 

According to those findings, which reviewed 170 epidemiological studies, physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and endometrial cancer, which is a form of cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus. The findings also suggest average cancer risk reduction rates ranging from 10% to 70%, depending on the type of cancer. 

That's good news for long-time runners, and good material to motivate those looking to pick up the sport. For a bit more incentive, here's a playlist that can help soundtrack an epic run — which is particularly useful in light of the fact that music can increase endurance and promote efficient energy use during physical activity. And once a runner is over the initial hump, here's a guide outlining how to safely tackle training for a half marathon. Why not go the distance?