We all know that exercise is good for us but how many of us are aware that regular exercise can actually lower our risk of developing bowel cancer?
With bowel cancer accounting for the deaths of 16,384 people in 2016 – roughly one every 30 minutes – that’s a lot of lives that could be saved if people made some simple lifestyle changes.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Roughly 110 people receive a diagnosis of bowel cancer every day – that’s 41,700 a year.
More than half (54%) of incidences of the disease is believed to be preventable.
Exercise significantly lowers our risk
Yet, a recent poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by the Beating Bowel Cancer charity found that nearly two thirds of us are unaware of the link between exercise and a reduction in bowel cancer risks.
So, what are the facts?
Taking part in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week – such as cycling, fast waking or an aerobics or yoga class – can decrease your risk of bowel cancer by as much as 12 per cent.
In June this year, Beating Bowel Cancer asked supporters to pledge to do 30 minutes of physical activity every day for 30 days in a bid to raise awareness of the issue.
It is recommended that we spend less time sitting down and more time being physically active. This doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for a gym, it means changing our habits to incorporate more activity into our day – for example, by getting off the bus stop early or parking a little further away from work, by doing the housework until we break a sweat, walking the dog, playing football with the kids, taking the stairs rather than the lift and so on.
Other preventative measures
There are other things that we can do, alongside physical activity, to reduce our risk of developing bowel cancer. Eating a diet that is high in fibre and low in red meat can also help to prevent the disease, as well as maintaining a healthy body weight.
Screening is another important tool in the fight against bowel cancer. Taking part in regular screening can help to detect cancer in the very early stages when it is at its most treatable.
In England and Wales, NHS screening for bowel cancer takes place between the ages of 60 and 74. Anyone registered with an NHS doctor will automatically receive a home screening kit every two years. It is simple to use. Using a freepost envelope, you send a small sample of poo to a laboratory for analysis for traces of blood, which can be a sign of cancer.
Benefits of private bowel cancer screening
If you are outside the standard screening age, you may prefer to go for private bowel cancer screening.
The risk of developing bowel cancer is higher between the ages of 50 and 60, accounting for around 10% of all cases, so if you are in this age bracket, screening may be particularly beneficial.
The benefit of private screening is that it is carried out using a colonoscopy, which is the most in-depth and accurate way to screen for bowel cancer. A colonoscopy can not only detect early signs of cancer, but during the procedure little biopsies can be made to remove any bowel polyps that could turn into cancer in the future.