HEALTHY LIVING
10/17/2012 11:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 18, 2012

Exercise Could Boost The Immune System, Study Suggests

Exercise is good for the body and brain -- and new research suggests it could boost your immune system and possibly even help it guard against cancer.

A small new study conducted by researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute showed that a large number of the immune T cells in cancer survivors improved in their ability to fight against disease after the cancer survivors 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," study researcher Laura Bilek, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said 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 in the statement.

The new research was presented at the Integrative Biology of Exercise VI meeting. Because the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, its findings should be regarded as preliminary.

The study included 16 people who had survived cancer, all but one of whom had just finished receiving their chemotherapy treatments. Researchers took blood samples from these study participants so that they could analyze their numbers of senescent and naive T cells (senescent T cells aren't great at fighting against disease, while naive T cells are).

Then, the study participants completed a 12-week exercise program, where they did cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises. Then, at the end of the program, researchers drew more blood samples to check their T cell levels again.

Researchers found that in most of the study participants, the ratios of their T cells changed from more senescent and fewer naive T cells to fewer senescent and more naive T cells.

Earlier this year, a study in the journal CANCER suggested that exercise could help to lower the risk of breast cancer, though the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill researchers noted that the best way to reduce risk is to maintain a healthy weight.

Those researchers found that reproductive-age or postmenopausal women who reported exercising the most in the study -- between 10 and 19 hours each week -- were the ones who had the greatest decrease in breast cancer risk -- a 30 percent lower risk of the disease.

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