By Gabe Sanders PhD, NSCA-CSCS
African Americans are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is considered the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. African Americans are even at a greater risk than there Native African counterparts. While the exact reasons African Americans are at a greater risk for developing colorectal cancer is not known, there are some potential controllable (behavior choices you can control) and uncontrollable (genetic predisposition) factors that are associated with this type of cancer.
There are controllable factors
Controllable factors such as a poor diet or diets rich in animal products have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Animal products are high in protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol and are likely responsible for the increased risk.
There are uncontrollable factors
There are other factors that many African Americans cannot control. African Americans may have higher levels of a certain bacteria that grow in their colon. Researchers are suggesting that the combination of poor dietary habits and increased internal colon bacteria levels are partially responsible for the increased risk of colorectal cancer in African Americans.
There is good news
There is good news! The good news comes in the form of physical activity/exercise. We are all aware of the health benefits of regular exercise, and it appears that these benefits can also extend to reducing your risk of developing colorectal cancer. More specifically, researchers are recommending engaging in more vigorous types of exercise for at least 45 minutes, five days per week to maximize your protection against colorectal cancer.
Vigorous exercise can protect you due to the fact it increases the movement of food in your digestive system and can enhance the positive effect of antioxidants in your immune system. These protective mechanisms may help your body combat different forms of toxins and unhealthy bacteria that can grow in your colon and digestive system.
The best way to safely engage in vigorous exercise would be to, first, ask your doctor if you are healthy enough to exercise at a vigorous intensity. Then, if cleared by your physician, ask your therapist or personal trainer how you can safely participate in a structured vigorous exercise regimen.
*For more examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
**Consult with a physician and/or medical healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen
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O’ Keefe SJD, Chung D, Mahmoud N, Sepulveda AR, Manafe M, Arch J, Adada H, van der Merwe T. Why Do African Americans Get More Colon Cancer than Native Africans? Journal of Nutrition. 2007;137: 175S–182S.
Schmid D and Leitzmann MF. Association between physical activity and mortality among breast cancer and colorectal cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Oncology. 2014; 25(7): 1293-1311.
Slatter ML. Physical activity and colorectal cancer. Sports Medicine. 2004; 34(4): 239-252.