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Stalling Cancer—and Reversing Aging

In May of last year, we wrote that our immune system has three main lines of defense. Exercise helps them all and becomes more important at 60, when normal function tends to fade. https://www.cbass.com/exerciseimmunity.html

Here, we dig deeper into how exercise stalls cancer growth through the immune system. And then break new ground with a study from Israel which, for the first time, reversed biological aging using oxygen therapy in a pressurized chamber.

Another study reviews the many ways exercise keeps us alive and well.

Together, the three epitomize self-help. We are learning more every day.  

Exercise Slows Cancer Growth

As related in my earlier article, natural killer cells are the most responsive immune cells to exercise. For example, during a bout of exercise, white and natural killer cells move into the bloodstream in vast numbers. Following exercise, these cells migrate to sites of inflammation to seek out pathogens and damaged cells. This process may even help our immune system detect cancerous cells.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden tested this process in mice—and humans—and reported their findings in the October, 2020, journal eLife.

Karolinska Institute News tells about the findings in everyday language.  It's still complicated, but you'll get the idea that exercise is a powerful weapon against cancer.

Training Effect

They divided mice with cancer into two groups and let one group exercise regularly in a spinning wheel while the other remained inactive. The result showed that cancer growth slowed and mortality decreased in the trained animals compared with the untrained.

Next, the researchers examined the importance of cytotoxic T cells by injecting antibodies that remove these T cells in both trained and untrained mice. The antibodies knocked out the positive effect of exercise on both cancer growth and survival, which according to the researchers demonstrates the significance of these T cells for exercise-induced suppression of cancer.

The researchers also transferred cytotoxic T cells from trained to untrained mice with tumors, which improved their prospects compared with those who got cells from untrained animals.

T Cell Metabolism

To examine how exercise influenced cancer growth, the researchers isolated T cells, blood and tissue samples after training sessions and measured levels of common metabolites that are produced in muscle and excreted into plasma at high levels during exertion. Some of these metabolites, such as lactate, altered the metabolism of the T cells and increased their activity. The researchers also found that T cells isolated from an exercised animal showed an altered metabolism compared to T cells from resting animals.


In addition, the researchers examined how these metabolites change in response to exercise in humans. They took blood samples from eight healthy men after 30 minutes of intense cycling and noticed that the same training-induced metabolites were released in humans.

“Our research shows that exercise affects the production of several molecules and metabolites that activate cancer-fighting immune cells and thereby inhibit cancer growth,” says Helene Rundqvist, senior researcher at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, and the study’s first author. “We hope these results may contribute to a deeper understanding of how our lifestyle impacts our immune system and inform the development of new immunotherapies against cancer.”

For ALL the details: https://elifesciences.org/articles/59996

Oxygen Therapy Reverses Aging

Israeli scientists turned back the clock in two key areas of the body believed to be responsible for the frailty and ill-health that comes with growing older.

The study, led by Yafit Hachmo, Research and Development Unit, Shamir Medical Center, Zerifin, Israel, was published November 18, 2020, in the journal Aging.

Sarah Knapton reported it the same day in the British publication The Telegraph.

Hachmo et al used a form of oxygen therapy to reverse two key indicators of ageing—telomere length and senescent cells accumulation.

With age, telomeres—the protective caps found at the end of chromosomes—shorten, and old cells, no longer dividing, accumulate.

Volunteers over the age of 64 were put in a pressurized chamber and given pure oxygen for 90 minutes every day, five days a week, for three months.

Telomeres were found to have increased in length by an average of 20 per cent, while their senescent cells had been reduced by up to 37 per cent—the equivalent of bodies 25 years younger.

Shai Efrati, a professor and co-author of the study, said: “The significant improvement of telomere length shown during and after these unique [hyperbaric chamber] protocols provides the scientific community with a new foundation of understanding that ageing can, indeed, be targeted and reversed at the basic cellular-biological level.” (Hyperbaric chamber: a pressurized chamber used to deliver high-pressure oxygen therapy.)

“Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibition effect on the expected telomere length shortening,” said Dr Amir Hadanny, another co-author of the study.

“However, what is remarkable to note in our study, is that in just three months of therapy, we were able to achieve such significant telomere elongation—at rates far beyond any of the current available interventions or lifestyle modifications.”

You’ll find more information and photos online: http://www.sci-news.com/medicine/hyperbaric-oxygen-treatments-aging-09086.html (and elsewhere)

*  *  *

Now, let’s move on to the awesome power of exercise to keep us alive and well.

The Compelling Link Between Physical Activity and the Body’s Defense System

If you’d rather hike the foothills, go for a bike ride, or train at your local fitness center than spend hours/days sitting in a hyperbaric chamber, David C. Nieman is your man. A professor of Biology at Appalachian State University, and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, NC, he and colleague Laurel M. Wentz are authors of the above titled review published online May, 2019, in the Journal of Sport and Health Science. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005

The review by Nieman and Wentz is indeed compelling, with references totaling 179.

The positive effects of exercise on immunosenescence, defined as the changes in the immune system associated with age, are indeed impressive.

The following list is provided by the authors:

    • Enhanced vaccination responses

    • Lower numbers of exhausted/senescent T cells

    • Increased T-cell proliferative capacity

    • Lower circulatory levels of inflammatory cytokines (i.e., decreased “inflamm-aging”)

    • Increased neutrophil phagocytic activity [Neutrophils are phagocytes capable of ingesting microorganisms or particles.]

    • Lowered inflammatory response to bacterial challenge

    • Greater NK cell cytotoxic activity [Natural killer (NK) cells target and kill aberrant cells]

    • Longer leukocyte telomere lengths


Highlights of the review are listed as follows:

• Acute exercise is an immune system adjuvant [therapy] that improves defense activity and metabolic health.

• Data support a clear inverse relationship between moderate exercise training and illness risk.

• Exercise training has an anti-inflammatory influence mediated through multiple pathways.

• Illness risk is increased in athletes during periods of intensified training and competition.

• Increased carbohydrate and polyphenol [beneficial plant compounds] intake is an effective nutritional strategy for immune support.

• Habitual exercise improves immune regulation, delaying the onset of age-related dysfunction.

• Advances in mass spectrometry technology [mass-to-charge ratio of ions] will provide new insights on exercise–immune responses. [The results are typically presented as a mass spectrum, a plot of intensity.]

My Take

I don’t pretend to understand all-of-the-above.

What I do understand is that regular exercise can strengthen my immune system and keep me alive and well longer.

The key is not to overdo. Stress and rest.

Keep moving between workouts to keep your blood moving and aid recovery.

If super-charging your oxygen intake in a hyperbaric chamber appeals to you, go for it. Just don’t let it keep you from exercising.

Exercise is good. Exercise is good.


I’ve been training my entire life—and it shows. This photo was taken by Bill Reynolds in an ABQ gym.

January 1, 2021

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