Skip to content

How exercise fights colorectal cancer

It is not a myth, physical exercise plays a major role not only in the prevention of colorectal cancer but also in healing and recurrences. Every year, studies report convincing results on the positive link between physical exercise and colorectal cancer. According to the HAS, High Authority for Health, the effects of regular physical activity are significant on colorectal cancer, breast cancer and non-metastasized prostate cancer. Today we are interested in the results concerning colorectal cancer.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer

The presence of polyps in the colon or rectum can progress to colorectal cancer. Contrary to what one might think at first sight, this cancer affects almost as many women (47% of cases) as men. 

The most determining risk factor is age, since the risks of developing colorectal cancer increase considerably after the age of 50. Also, the presence of polyps as well as a history of inflammatory colon diseases favor cancer. But the biggest controllable risk factor is lifestyle; diet, habits related to psychotropic drugs (tobacco, alcohol) and physical activity are some of them. Scientific experiments have shown in recent years that physical activity is particularly linked to colon cancer. Explanations. 

The recommendations of the High Authority for Health

In a 2019 report, HAS informs that regular physical activity throughout life has a significant preventive action on cancers of the colon, endometrium and breast in particular. More than that: the chances of survival increase when you practice at least moderate physical activity, accompanied by a lower chance of recurrence. 

According to the HAS, the effects are significant from 5 METs-h/week, ie around 60 min of moderate-intensity physical exercise or 30 min of high-intensity physical exercise per week.

The MET value for measuring physical activity

Physical activity cannot be reduced to a run or a game of tennis. Vacuuming, cleaning the garden, going to buy bread on foot rather than by car, are all part of physical activity. In order to measure it, one can use the MET value, metabolic equivalent of a task, or metabolic equivalent of a task in French. 

Example: 5 MET corresponds to 5 times the energy that we would expend at rest. Moderate physical exertion is between 3 and 6 METs. 
Exercice physique et cancer colorectal

Exercise against colorectal cancer

Two fairly recent studies have demonstrated the physiological effects of physical exercise in the prevention of colorectal cancer and on its cure. 

Increase in IL-6 protein

– International Journal of Cancer (2022) –


This study involved 16 participants aged 50 to 80 with risk factors for colorectal cancer. For 30 minutes, they had to pedal at a moderate intensity. The first notable result they obtained by analyzing the participants' blood before and after physical exertion was the increase in the concentration of the protein IL-6. This IL-6 protein is a protein that precisely protects the body from colorectal cancer. Released into the blood following regular physical exercise, the IL-6 protein can interact with abnormal cells to restore their DNA (Source). In addition, the study observed a very slow growth of cancer cells brought into contact with a blood sample from participants, just after physical exertion. 

HIIT and colorectal cancer protective proteins

– Journal of Physiology (2019) –

This study wanted to highlight the effect of short and intense physical exercise in the healing process of colorectal cancer. Intense physical activity sessions are called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). In this 2019 study, it was observed that the colorectal cancer protective proteins IL-6 and IL-8 were increased after a HIIT session. As these intense physical activity sessions were repeated, the progression of colorectal cancer stopped and, on the contrary, it receded. 

Physical exercise reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%

According to the Cancer Foundation, physical activity decreases by 17% risks of colorectal cancer. The synthesis of protective interleukin proteins is not the only positive consequence of physical exercise. It should also be noted that physical activity increases intestinal transit, which decreases the time of exposure of the digestive tract to carcinogenic substances. Other physiological changes would have a positive effect on colorectal cancer. 

To go further: colorectal cancer is one of the cancers that heals well if detected early enough. For that, an easy solution: get tested !