Can healthy hormones cut disease risks?

2013Apr11_WomensFitness_AWe all know that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to obesity and disease and that more active people live longer lives. But why is this the case? Science could reveal an answer that links exercise and disease with the key being the effect working out has on women’s hormones. Could there be a link between healthy hormones and a lower risk of chronic diseases?

These days, it seems obvious to everyone that sitting around, doing little or no exercise is a lifestyle that leads to obesity and illness. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that women who partake in regular physical activity live healthier, longer lives and are less prone to diseases. This seems common sense yet you might find it surprising to learn that even scientists do not fully understand the links between weight, lifestyle and certain diseases such as cancer. A new study suggests that the answer may lie in our hormones.

Cancer and belly fat potential links

An astonishing number of the most common diseases, around 80 percent, could come from being overweight and leading an inactive lifestyle. Cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, various cancers, especially breast cancer are all exacerbated by obesity, whereas regular physical exercise can lower the risk of developing breast and cervical cancers. A study conducted by  The National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg, reveals that varying levels of certain hormones, produced in your stomach fat, can cause sedentary people to develop diseases.

Could exercise cut cancer risk?

It seems that our adipose tissues, (mostly made up of our belly fat) secrete hormones that can have a massive impact on our metabolism. Professor Cornelia Ulrich, who heads the Department of Preventive Oncology at NCT has spent much of her career examining the links between sports and cancer in prevention as well as rehabilitation. Her studies suggest that women who exercise regularly are less likely to develop breast cancer than women who are overweight. She also found a correlation between colon, kidney, esophageal, pancreatic and cervical cancers and obesity.

Influencing hormones

It seems that exercise could help you to avoid some diseases because it reduces belly fat. This dangerous fat has a large part to play in inflammatory processes and is of importance in the development of cancers.  Professor Ulrich says that among the hormones influenced by your stomach fat is the useful  “anti-inflammatory adiponectin which increases the effect of insulin and may help suppress type 2 diabetes and liver disease.  Another is leptin, a protein hormone which can promote tumor cell growth.” So, high levels of adiponectin and low levels of dangerous leptin would mean you are in good health.

The study

In her latest controlled study, Professor Ulrich took 439 postmenopausal women over 50 and divided them into three groups and one control group. The three intervention groups had to make changes to their lifestyles in terms of 1: Diet 2: Exercise 3: Diet and exercise. They were all closely monitored for a year before results were gathered.

It was found that a combination of physical activity and weight loss would result in a more healthy balance of the hormones adiponectin and leptin. Indeed, in all intervention groups, levels of the more dangerous leptin hormone decreased but most noticeably in the diet and exercise group, by 40%. Levels of adiponectin increased in women on a reduced calorie diet.

The most positive effects on hormone production came down to how much weight had been lost. The more kilos dropped, the more adiponectin levels increased, and the more dangerous leptin levels dropped. The greatest changes were found in women who’d lost some 10% of their initial body weight.

In the exercise group, women who gained muscle mass, without losing weight also found their leptin levels dropped. So there are indications that this dangerous hormone could well be influenced by body composition rather that weight. Healthy muscle mass is much less dangerous than fat. Indeed, the more ‘fat’ kilos a participant had lost, the more her adiponectin levels increased and the more her leptin levels decreased.

Is it time for action?

If that belly of yours is starting to strain at your belt, you may be putting more than your sofa at risk of permanent damage. It’s time to devise an exercise program and diet that works for you. This might not only lower the risks of a serious illness in the future, but can be a fun way to meet new friends and start enjoying your life to the full.

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