Health Team

Exercise, sleep help women fight cancer

Posted November 21, 2008 12:42 p.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2008 6:21 p.m. EST

Putting on your walking shoes and sleeping a full eight hours a night can help reduce a woman's risk of getting cancer, according to a recent study.

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Nemcheck said she is trying to keep one step ahead of cancer.

"I recently joined a gym. I started swimming, and I exercise five times a week," Nemcheck said.

Through her cancer battle, Nemcheck said she learned that exercise and sleep are keys to staying cancer-free.

"I listen to my body, and my body tells me that I do have to rest," Nemcheck said.

A study by the National Cancer Institute found that exercising can reduce a woman's risk of cancer by as much as 20 percent.

"This is one of the first studies that has shown that in women who do not have a history of breast cancer, they can actually reduce their risk by exercising," said Dr. Susan Boolbol, with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Researchers did not find the exact link between cancer risk and physical activity, but believe it might lie in the fact that exercise affects hormone levels, immune function and body weight.

However, researchers found that exercise can't help if a woman does not get a good nights' sleep.

Sleeping less than seven hours a night eliminates the cancer-fighting benefits of exercise. In some cases, lack of sleep increased the risk by 50 percent.

Not sleeping enough can also cause memory problems, induce depression and weaken a person's immune system.

Researchers say they need to do more work to determine the exact connections between exercise, rest and cancer. But in the meantime, what's known should help women reduce their risk of cancer.

"There are certain things that we can alter in our lifestyle and, hopefully, reduce our risk of developing cancer," Boolbol.

Nemcheck said she is willing to take those simple steps immediately.

"Anything that you can do to feel healthier, be healthier is a no-brainer," she said.