Being Well

Physical Activity and Cancer: They Are Related

Exercising daily can reduce your risk of many types of cancer.
Exercising daily can reduce your risk of many types of cancer.

Everyone knows that physical activity is good for you. Benefits are widespread and include improved strength, mobility and longevity. With these proven rewards, many researchers are looking into the effect exercise may have on the risk of certain diseases, including cancer.

Cancer is a very complex disease that is determined by many factors, including genetics, what you are exposed to over your lifetime, and behaviors. As a cancer patient or a person interested in reducing their cancer risk, it is very important for you to understand which factors you have control over, and how to maximize your health.

Can exercise really lower cancer risk?

Two of the most deadly cancers in the U.S. are breast and colon, and a sedentary lifestyle is pointed to as a big risk factor for both. According to the National Cancer Institute, regular physical activity is linked to decreased risk of colorectal cancer. In a study by the American Cancer Society, women who sat for six or more hours per day (vs. women who sat for three or less) faced a 37% higher mortality risk. This risk increased for the women in the study who didn’t exercise regularly — up to a shocking 94%. Researchers believe physical activity lowers hormone levels, and this may prevent tumors, especially if you are premenopausal woman. It may also decrease your insulin, improving your immune response to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Whether you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, or you have a family history and want to reduce you risk, exercise should play a major role in your life.

How much exercise is enough?

Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center notes that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each day is a good goal, but that aiming for an hour and incorporating some increased-intensity activity would be even more effective. They also recommend some ways to incorporate more activity into everyday life, including taking the stairs, working out while you watch TV, walking the mall when the weather is bad and walking over to coworkers rather than emailing them.

If you are a relatively sedentary person, the hardest step will be starting a fitness regimen. The Mayo Clinic recommends starting slowly, and increasing the intensity of your exercises as your stamina improves. They also advise being flexible and creative about how you work different workouts into your day. Being more physically active may not be the easiest thing for a busy person to do, but the potential benefits are overwhelming.

What is your favorite type of exercise to reduce your risk of cancer? Tell us in the comments below.

Larry Istrail
Larry Istrail