Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. It can also lower your risk for many types of cancer, as well as other diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity can help prevent cancer in many ways. Exercise helps to reduce belly fat (obesity is a risk factor for many types of cancer), increase oxygen levels, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, elevate immune response, detoxify the body, balance sex hormones like estrogen, reduce inflammation, improve digestion and elimination, and reduce stress. Many studies have shown that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and endometrial cancer.
The link between exercise and breast cancer risk
Over 60 studies have been published on the relationship between physical activity and breast cancer incidence. Most studies indicate that physically active women have a 20 to 80 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women, especially with 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate to high-intensity exercise.
Although a lifetime of regular, vigorous activity is thought to be of greatest benefit, even women who increase their physical activity after menopause may also experience a reduced risk compared with inactive women.
The relationship between physical activity and colon cancer
More than 50 studies have examined colorectal cancer in relation to physical activity. Research has consistently shown that adults who increase their physical activity, either in intensity, duration, or frequency, can reduce colon cancer risk by 30 to 40 percent. Only 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day is needed to protect against colon cancer.
In addition to the previously mentioned anti-cancer benefits, physical activity may also protect against colon cancer by stimulating elimination and decreasing the time the colon is exposed to potential carcinogens.
The connection between exercise and lung cancer
At least 21 studies have reviewed the impact of physical activity on risk of lung cancer. Overall, these studies suggest an inverse association between
physical activity and lung cancer risk, with the most physically active individuals experiencing about 20 percent reduced risk. Although higher levels of exercise can protect against lung cancer, the potential benefits are reduced in smokers and persons with respiratory disease.
The relationship between physical activity and risk of endometrial cancer
About 20 studies examining the role of physical activity in endometrial cancer risk suggest that women who are physically active have a 20 to 40 percent reduced risk of endometrial cancer, with the greatest reduction in risk among those with the highest levels of physical activity.
What types of exercise are most beneficial?
Physical activity in any form can protect against cancer by helping you maintain a healthy weight. Plus, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), exercise keeps hormones at healthy levels, reduces stress, stimulates circulation, supports your immune system, and keeps the digestive system healthy.
Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day can make a difference. If you can fit in 60 minutes a day, that’s even better.
Aerobic activities like jogging, jumping rope, rebounding, brisk walking, dancing, and biking get your heart pumping and your blood flowing, while strength training like lifting weights can prevent muscle loss, build bone density and help burn calories faster so you maintain a healthy weight.
According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center website, you don’t have to go to the gym every day or do sprints to get your 30-60 minutes of physical activity. Normal daily activities can count as exercise, but only if you do them with enough intensity to raise your heart rate and increase your breathing.
Try these strategies to work more physical activity into your day:
- Get off the bus or train one stop early and walk briskly the rest of the way
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
- Park on the far end of the parking lot so you have to walk farther to your destination
- Go dancing with your partner or friends
- Walk briskly around the mall two or three times before you begin shopping
- Mow your lawn
- Wash your car
- Vacuum your rugs