What is p53?

Despite what it may sound like, p53 is not the newest type of exercise system nor is it a secret underground facility funded by the government. It is a gene located on the 17th chromosome in the human body. Current research suggests that this p53 gene is very special because it may be a major factor in finding an effective treatment against cancer. In fact mutations of this gene are present in over 50% of all cancers. p53 is believed to be a tumor suppressor gene that is activated when cell DNA is damaged. In other words, it prevents damaged DNA cells from replicating until they are repaired. It’s theorized when the p53 coding is damaged or mutated, faulty DNA cells cannot be repaired or destroyed. This malfunctioning gene then allows the impaired (cancer) cells to grow without any resistance. It is like a printing press pumping out thousands of smudged newspapers and being distributed worldwide without the worker noticing the problem. As the battle wages on to make good use of the power of p53 as a cancer treatment, prevention is still the most effective method. Let it be known that cancer is a very complex process and that this one mutated gene is not the only culprit in the formation of the disease.

p53 and Exercise

I don’t want to confuse you too much with all this science, but the more you know the better off you will be at defending against this terrible illness. Mitochondria’s primary role is to regulate energy within a cell, but it has many other metabolic (energy) functions as well. Aerobic exercise has been shown effective in reducing cancers. However, it is not to be confused with anaerobic exercises such as resistance training. Anaerobic exercises are shown to be an effective strategy against cancer prevention as you already read, but are believed to work on different mechanisms and pathways. When aerobic exercise is performed, mitochondrial volume and function is increased resulting in higher levels of cell respiration. Mitochondrial respiration is important because it slows down the oxidation process, which reduces the life of the cell. Not surprising, exercise has been shown to increase p53 inside the mitochondria where it binds to DNA and prevents oxidation. As you already read, p53 is needed to regulate damaged DNA. It is argued that Aerobic exercise reduces insulin and insulin growth factor which is known to feed cancer cells. More studies have to be done to find the true power of exercise but what we gather from these results so far is that resistance training and aerobic exercises improves cellular respiration, promotes p53 and reduces the risk of certain cancers.

Exercise Benefits that Combat Cancer

  • Reduces Systemic Inflammation
  • Regulates Sex Hormones
  • Improves Antioxidant Defense
  • Improves Immune Function
  • Reduces Overall and Central Adiposity
  • Decreases Insulin Resistance and Insulin Growth Factor

Be Intense

Resistance training and aerobic exercise has always been known for its legendary role in reducing chronic life threatening illnesses. Cancer is no exception and is becoming one of those illnesses starting to make its way farther up the list. What got me curious about the effects of exercise on cancer was a study I read where resistance trained men with higher levels of muscular strength reduced cancer risks drastically regardless even if they contained a higher percentage of fat. They were found to reduce cancer risk by 37% compared to unhealthy Men. Moderate to vigorous exercise at least 30 minutes a day of resistance training and/ or aerobic exercise is required to get the most out of those cancer fighting benefits. The combination of the two forms of exercise is a knockout punch in prevention with an up to 60% lower death rate when compared to lazy, unhealthy men. Another study also showed that the greater the intensity in exercise the greater the decrease in cancer risk. Men who exercised at a greater intensity compared to others were up to 50% less likely to die prematurely from cancer. Intensity is needed because it forces the body to adapt to the stress put on it. If there is no stress than there is no change. I want it to be clear that everybody has their degree of what intensity is. The easiest way to increase intensity is push yourself hard in the gym. Create mini goals for yourself and always work on going beyond your limit.

Is Exercise All You Need?

Remember, these studies represent comparisons of men and cancer risk in relation to exercise. It does not mean that fit men will not develop cancer, but compared to other less active men, it decreases their chances or slows down the process. Overall, exercise and fitness accounts for a small percentage of the lifestyle changes needed to prevent cancer, but physical activity positively influences many other risk factors such as obesity and diet. A complete overhaul of your lifestyle has to change to give your body the best resources possible at preventing cancer. Here is the breakdown of environmental and genetic impact that influences cancer:

  • Diet: 30% - 35%
  • Tobacco: 25% - 30%
  • Infections: 15% -20%
  • Obesity: 10% - 20%
  • Alcohol: 4% - 6%
  • Others (Including Physical Activity): 10% - 15%
  • Genetic: 5% - 10%

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ~Hippocrates

Nutrition is 80% of living a healthy lifestyle. Changing your nutrition can be extremely hard so we wrote a free Nutrition report for you, to take away all the guess work.


  1. Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A.B., Sundaram, C., Harikumar, K.B., Tharakan, S.T., Lai1, O.S., Sung, B., Aggarwa, B.B. (2008). Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research, 25(9). 2097 – 2116.
  2. Bartlett, J.D., Close, G.L., Drust, B, Morton, J.P. (2013). The Emerging Role of p53 in Exercise Metabolism. Sports Medicine, 44. 303 – 309.
  3. Laukkanen, J.A., Rauramaa, R., Ma¨kikallio, T.H., Toriola, A.T., Kur, S. (2009). Intensity of Leisure - Time Physical Activity and Cancer Mortality in Men. British Journal of Sports Medicine, Online. 1 – 5.
  4. Ruiz, J.R., Sui, X., Lobelo, F., Lee, D., Morrow, J.R., Jackson, A.W; Jr., Hébert, J.R. . . . Blair, S.N. (2009). Muscular Strength and Adiposity as Predictors of Adulthood Cancer Mortality in Men. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 18(5). 1468 – 1476.
  5. Saleem, A., Hood, D.A. (2012). Acute Exercise Induces Tumour Suppressor Protein p53 Translocation to the Mitochondria and Promotes a p53–Tfam–Mitochondrial DNA Complex in Skeletal Muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 591(14). 3625 – 3636.
  6. Wang, P., Zhuang, J., Hwang, P.M. (2012). p53: Exercise Capacity and Metabolism. Current Opinion in Oncology, 24(1). 76 – 82.

featured photo by Filippo Venturi

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