Cancer and Firefighters: Another benefit of exercise that you may not have thought about

My team and I had such a great time at the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb! So proud of my local firefighters (Corvallis, Oregon) who raised over $13,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. stairclimb 3

In honor of this amazing event and it’s impact on blood cancer research, today I’m going to discuss the relationships between cancer risk and exercise. While I usually like to give one specific/actionable health tip to my readers each week, today your tip is to just be sure you’re active because firefighters are already at an increased risk of developing cancer compared to the general population.

While even those with healthy habits may develop cancer, it has been shown across the board that people who exercise are less likely to. While this is likely true for all types of cancer, the strongest relationships have been shown between exercise and breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers. This is encouraging since prostate and colon cancer are two of the greatest killers in men while breast cancer is that of women. Even more inspiring is that exercise has protective effects against cancer development even for people who are overweight (although exercising in combination with having a healthy weight would lower risk of cancer development to the greatest degree).

While people tend to understand that exercise is “good for you,” they may not realize that researchers are constantly identifying direct mechanisms by which exercise reduces risk of certain diseases, cancer included. For example, we know that exercise reduces risk of colon cancer because it decreases gut transit time (of food) and therefore reduces the amount of time that harmful toxins are hanging out in the colon waiting to be excreted. There are other direct mechanisms involving the body’s hormonal and inflammatory responses that reduce a person’s risk for developing cancer when they exercise.

We don’t know exactly how much exercise is needed to reduce risk of cancer but research suggests that it may be a little bit more (around 30 – 60 minutes per day) than what is required to reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes (a total of 150 minutes per week). It is clear, however, that increasing levels of exercise are associated with further reductions in cancer risk.

Are you a cancer survivor? We’d love to hear from you and give you props! Let us know in the comments below.

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By | 2018-06-01T07:29:29+00:00 March 12th, 2014|Uncategorized|2 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.


  1. Duane Hanna August 16, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Yes!!! So glad you published this. I am a 14 year survivor of NHL that I battled with halfway through my fire career (retired now), and we discussed this very important issue at the stairclimb a few years ago. My exercise routine continued, even during chemo, and I believe had a significant positive effect on my outcome. Exercise is medicine!

    • Karlie Moore August 17, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Wow that is so great to hear Duane! And I’m grateful that you shared your story here with us!

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