It’s been long established that exercise can reduce your cancer risk, but a new paper might have nailed down the reason why this happens. A byproduct of exercise, lactic acid has been incorrectly accused of causing the pains you feel after working out. However, Runner’s World reports that you can actually thank inflammation and muscle tears for that. The study from the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that lactic acid could cause cancer to develop and spread.

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The paper, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, explains that people who exercise process lactate better than non-exercisers, and can clear it out of their systems.

“During high-intensity exercise, working muscles display many of the same metabolic characteristics as cancer cells,” explains San Millan, study co-author, former pro cyclist and physiologist to Tour de France cyclists, in a blog post on the university’s website.

Muscles turn glucose into energy in the mitochondria, which makes more lactate than the body can clear out. That excess is used to power up our brain, muscles and organs, which prevents lactic acid build up. At least, that’s how it works in healthy individuals. For people with cancer, the paper authors believe that the system breaks down.

Millan thinks that exercises lowers cancer risk, not only because the body clears lactate more easily, but also because the combination of sedentary lifestyle and sugary diet can actually cause lactic acid build up.

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The team believes their paper could lead to new treatment options that include exercise and dietary recommendations.

Previous research has shown that cancer risk can be reduced significantly just by getting more physical activity. According to the American Institute of Cancer research, colon, breast and endometrial cancers are reduced 25 to 30 percent just by living a healthy lifestyle. However, the organization notes that along with exercise comes reduced body fat, which can decrease cancer risk, too. As with most diseases, maintaining a balanced lifestyle will do wonders in keeping you healthy.

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