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Physical Activity as a Marker to Identify and Treat Disease

Author: Isabella Ng

Editors: Viola Chen and Kevy Chen

Artist: Shaoyu Zhang

It's no surprise that physical activity makes a difference in health. Sports and exercise have been encouraged and recommended by doctors for centuries due to their benefits for an individual. However, physical activity can do more than just keep your body healthy and in shape. Recently, studies on the effect of exercise on biomarkers in health and disease have opened the discussion for implications of physical activity beyond what was originally considered.

Physical activities are skeletal muscular ambulations, or work that leads to energy consumption. This can be achieved through various means such as playing sports, conditioning, occupational, and domestic physical activity throughout a person's daily life. Low intensity, high intensity, aerobics, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening, flexibility—the options for physical activity seem endless. High-intensity exercise, also known as extreme conditioning, has gained popularity in mainstream media. Hopping on the trend, researchers have followed “crossfitters” who adopted and followed these high-intensity exercise programs. They found that after only six months of training, basal levels of testosterone increased, cortisol in men lowered, and an adaptation of immune function biomarkers (CD8 T lymphocytes) was found as early on as in the fourth month of training (Reis et al., 2020). These changes to the body, due to activity along with observations of biomarkers like CD8 T lymphocytes, can hold monumental importance in the discussion of diseases such as obesity. 

Differing from the concept of extreme exercise, regular exercise has been documented to hold extreme benefits for the progression and treatment of illnesses, most notably, cancer. According to Darren E.R. Warburton, a professor at the University of British Columbia, breast and prostate cancer patients have benefited from regular exercise, impacting survival rates positively. As shown in the graph below, with Q1 being the least fit and Q4 being the most fit, the direct relationship between physical fitness and mortality is evident. However, beyond survival, studies have also demonstrated that physical activity leads to general improvements in quality of life—physically, functionally, and psychologically (Warburton et al., 2006; Al-Mhanna et al., 2022).  

Studies found that cancer mortality increased by as much as 29% in physically inactive middle-aged women (Warburton et al., 2006). Cardiovascular-related mortality also doubled, as a lack of physical exercise weakens the organs, making them more susceptible to illnesses, disease, and death. 

The discoveries on the benefits of physical activity have implications for both prevention and treatment plans. For example, patients with heart disease have long been recommended a plan of rest and physical inactivity. However, researchers published in the Canadian Medical Association challenge this approach. Through their research, they claim that people who are active with risk factors for cardiovascular disease are at lower risk of premature death than those who are physically inactive with no factors for the disease. With the detrimental effects of inactivity being brought to attention, these sedentary action plans will be forced to adapt to the new findings. 

Physical activity serves as a marker for disease risk. As mentioned previously, sedentary lifestyles are associated with increased risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. A lack of physical activity serves not only as an early warning for such diseases but also as a marker for premature death. Recent advancements and new information on the benefits of physical activity can revolutionize prevention and treatment plans. Physical activity can aid in rehabilitation, promote strength, improve flexibility, and an overall better quality of life. Regular exercise contributes to disease prevention, management, and well-being. 



AL-Mhanna, Sameer Badri, et al. “Effectiveness of physical activity on immunity markers

and quality of life in cancer patient: A systematic review.” PeerJ, vol. 10, 2 Aug. 2022,

Anderson, Elizabeth, and J. Larry Durstine. “Physical activity, exercise, and chronic

diseases: A brief review.” Sports Medicine and Health Science, vol. 1, no. 1, Dec. 2019, pp.

Reis, Victor Machado. “Effects of exercise on biomarkers in health and disease: Some new

insights with special focus on extreme exercise and healthy ageing.” International

Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 6, 18 Mar. 2020, p. 1986,

Warburton, D. E.R. “Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence.” Canadian Medical

Association Journal, vol. 174, no. 6, 14 Mar. 2006, pp. 801–809,

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