But now scientists believe short, sharp bursts could actually help stop bowel cancer growing, offering hope to thousands of patients diagnosed every year.
After a short session of high intensity interval training (HIIT), scientists found the rate at which cancer cells grew slowed right down.
The workout also helped reduce inflammation, tests showed.
Thousands could benefit
Around 42,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.
It's the second deadliest cancer in the country, yet it can be cured if it's caught early enough.
Catch the disease at stage 1 and a patient has a 97 per cent chance of surviving five years or longer.
But, diagnose a patient at stage 4 and that chance plummets to just seven per cent.
That's why The Sun launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign last April, to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis – and urge everyone to brush up and learn the red-flag warning signs of the disease.
The new findings could prove significant for thousands of bowel cancer patients – helping them avoid a relapse and the return of their disease.
Exercise stops growth of cancer cells
James Devin, who led the research at The University of Queensland, said: "We have shown exercise may play a role in inhibiting the growth of colon cancer cells."
"After an acute bout of HIIT there were specific increases in inflammation immediately after exercise, which are hypothesised to be involved in reducing the number of cancer cells."
The findings, published in the Journal of Physiology, suggests one HIIT session can help.
And Mr Devin's team believe repeated workouts involving short, high energy bursts, "may contribute to the fight against the cancer".
Their findings reinforce the importance of doing regular exercise, and maintaining an active lifestyle.
HIIT could stop bowel cancer returning
Mr Devin's team worked with experts at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
They asked bowel cancer patients to complete either a single session of HIIT, or 12 sessions over four weeks.
Each volunteers gave blood samples immediately after their single session or four-week programme of training.
The signs of bowel cancer you need to know…
What are the red-flag signs of bowel cancer?
The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
- a change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
- pain or a lump in your tummy
- extreme tiredness
- losing weight
Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.
Other signs of bowel cancer include:
- gripping pains in the abdomen
- feeling bloated
- constipation and being unable to pass wind
- being sick
- feeling like you need to strain – like doing a number two – but after you've been to the loo
While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious is noticing blood in your stools.
But, they warn it can prove tricky for doctors to diagnose the disease, because in most cases these symptoms will be a sign of a less serious disease.
Scientists then analysed the samples under the microscope to look at the growth of cancer cells.
Their findings show the benefit of exercise for bowel cancer patients.
Mr Devin added: "This suggests that a physically active lifestyle may be important in tackling human colorectal tumours."
Now, the team want to look at how these changes in growth happen, and learn more about the biomarkersin the blood that can affect cancer cell growth.
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