We’ve all heard the message before: getting our body mass index (BMI) down below the magic 25 is best for our health in the long-term. And for runners, that’s often a big draw when taking up the sport; we know that keeping our weight down isn’t just about fitting into smaller jeans, but about reducing our risk of serious health problems such as heart disease and type II diabetes.
But if you weren’t aware that losing weight could also improve your chances of remaining cancer-free, you’re not alone. A new report from Cancer Research UK has shown that more than three-quarters of British people asked don’t recognise the link between obesity and cancer. There is also a lack of awareness about which types of cancer are linked to high body weight: people are much more likely to associate obesity with cancers of the digestive system, such as bowel cancer, than with some of the other cancer types that are linked to obesity, such as cancer of the breast, womb and ovaries.
In light of the research, Cancer Research UK said the Government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the link between obesity and cancer. Its experts also called on the Government to do more about childhood obesity, for example by banning the advertising of junk food around family programmes that are aired before 9pm.
So what can you do? If you’ve taken up running, just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet – weight loss will come in time and you don’t need to be a size eight to feel the health benefits. “There’s a lot of evidence that physical activity is really important in reducing cancer risk, so if you are fit, eating healthily and maintaining a body weight that’s above average, then that’s better than a sedentary person that’s gaining weight,” says Dr Emma Crosbie from the University of Manchester, an expert on obesity-linked reproductive cancers. But she adds, “Clearly, maintaining a healthy BMI is the ideal.”
If you’re overweight at the moment and worried that this makes running risky for you, just start slowly and see your doctor if you’re really concerned. “Not everybody that’s overweight needs to get a check-up before they start running,” says Dr Juliet McGrattan, Women’s Running’s resident GP and 261 Fearless running club leader. “The main risks [of starting running] with obesity would be high blood pressure, heart disease and high blood sugar. If you’re over 40 and overweight you could have an NHS health check that includes blood sugar and blood pressure, and that’s something you’re entitled to anyway.”
Apart from that, just take the same precautions as someone who has a healthy BMI: make sure you get fitted for a good sports bra; get supportive and well-cushioned running shoes that suit your running style; and make sure you build up slowly using a run/walk approach. Remember, with every step that you take, you’re helping to protect your long-term health.