Your risk of ovarian cancer can be lowered with exercise, but what’s key is knowing what kind of exercise works best at cutting the risk of this deadly disease.

This disease is the deadliest of gynecologic malignancies because typically, it’s diagnosed after it has spread beyond the abdominal cavity.

Specific Type of Exercise to Lower Ovarian Cancer Risk

A Canadian study recommends moderate exercise for lowering the chances of developing this stealthy killer disease.

For this study, which was reported in The International Journal of Cancer‘s online edition, women completed surveys pertaining to exercise.

The result was that moderate exercise was linked to lowering the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Interestingly, strenuous exercise was not associated with lowering ovarian cancer risk (it didn’t raise it, either).

However, this study, led by Sai Yi Pan of Canada’s Public Health Agency, involved only 442 women with ovarian cancer, but also 2,135 women who did not have this disease, but were matched to the first group for background.

Both groups ranged in age from 20 to 76. The women were asked to report how often on a monthly basis they jogged, ran, walked, swam, gardened, skied, bowled, skated, participated in exercise classes, or engaged in other activities.

Variables such as smoking, drinking, age and diet were adjusted for.

Moderate exercise was the level associated with lowering ovarian cancer risk.

However, the upper end of moderate exercise, in terms of intensity, was where the association was, versus the lower end of intensity of moderate activity.

The study defined moderate exercise as being comparable to taking a walk 3-6 times/week, or golfing 1-2 times a week.

A lower risk of ovarian cancer was also demonstrated in women with a lot of moderate “recreational” physical activity both before and after menopause.

As far as obese and overweight women, they benefited a little more from exercise than thinner women.

Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

This is presumably because obesity is linked to higher ovarian cancer risk. Nevertheless, leaner women still benefited from exercise when it came to cutting ovarian cancer risk.

The moderate activity that’s associated with decreasing the odds of getting the disease also applies to activity in the workplace.

According to Pan, exercise helps lower risk of ovarian cancer by enhancing the immune system, fighting overweight, or affecting hormones.

What about strenuous exercise?

So why wouldn’t vigorous exercise produce a benefit to ovarian cancer risk? The study authors speculate that strenuous activity may push the body too hard.

As a former personal trainer, I am intrigued by the results of this study. One of the things that enters my mind is that strenuous workouts raise production of human growth hormone, which in turn substantially boosts the immune system.

Mountains of research show that rigorous exercise does wonders for heart health, including raising the good HDL cholesterol.

Very interestingly, strenuous exercise is actually linked to lowering breast cancer risk.

Pan’s study has some limits in that the data was based on subjective self-reporting, and this can be flawed.

The surveys didn’t ask for duration of exercise sessions, such as length of time walking.

In fact, “walking” is quite ambiguous: Does this mean a 3.5 mph walk on a level course? Or a 3.5 mph walk up hills?

About 20 percent of the ovarian cancer patients, whom the researchers wanted to participate, either couldn’t be located, already died, or their doctors didn’t contact them about the questionnaire.

Plus, of those contacted, about 24 percent didn’t even return the survey.

The low response rate among the subjects was primarily due to the poor prognosis of ovarian cancer. This may have affected the results analysis, says the paper.

The results of this study are compelling enough to warrant additional studies into what kinds of exercise are best for lowering ovarian cancer risk.

Don’t let these study results deter you from strenuous exercise; remember, rigorous activity was not shown to raise ovarian cancer risk, and intense workouts provide so many other benefits that moderate exercise does not.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 
Top image: Shutterstock/Chinnapong