In a new study, researchers found that regular gentle exercise could play a role in reversing liver damage that can lead to cancer.
They found that aerobic exercise in mice reduced the levels of inflammation in the liver that develops with aging.
This reversed liver damage and prevented tumors from developing, with only one mouse in the exercise group developing a liver tumor.
The research was conducted by scientists at Newcastle University.
As we age, our body begins to lose its control over the immune system, which can result in abnormally high levels of inflammation that generally only happens when our body is healing or needs to fight infection.
And when these high levels linger over a long period of time, it can cause tissue damage, which can lead to the development of cancer.
Long-term inflammation also caused shortening of telomeres—protective structures located at the ends of chromosomes—which are associated with increased risk of cancer, with the liver being particularly susceptible to these changes.
In the study, the team wanted to see if exercise could help throw that immune decline into reverse, and could help reduce the risk of liver tumors developing.
Using older mice who had chronic inflammation, the researchers grouped them into an exercise group (16 mice) and a sedentary group (13 mice).
Both were monitored in the same way (weighed at the same time and body condition checked), but the exercise group was placed on treadmills for 30 minutes, three times a week.
The scientists showed gentle exercise reduced the levels of inflammation in the liver and improved the metabolism of older mice compared to their sedentary counterparts, even in animals that had advanced liver disease.
In addition to a reduced risk of liver tumors, the team found additional benefits for mice who were exercised, with less fat in the liver and fewer damaged telomeres.
The researchers also found that the exercised mice were still physically active as they age, which is an indicator of general wellbeing, while the physical activity of mice who weren’t exercised noticeably decreased.
The team concluded that regular but modest aerobic exercise prevented the decline of general health and promoted wellbeing in these animals, in addition to protecting them against tumors developing in the liver.
Further research could help determine if a regular, gentle routine of exercise may also help reduce the risk of liver cancer in people.
One author of the study is Professor Derek Mann.
The study is published in The Journal of Inflammation.