Why Being Active Matters for Cancer Prevention (and no, it’s not about weight loss)

activity levels

The topic of physical activity has made a lot of headlines lately, with some questioning if you need to take that brisk walk or bike ride to help you lose weight. It’s an important area of research but as it continues, one point is getting lost: for lower cancer risk and overall good health, the research is strikingly clear: being active matters.

Research shows that being active lowers risk for three cancers – endometrial, colorectal and postmenopausal breast. That lower risk comes independent of weight.

And while what you eat plays a key role in weight loss, that daily walk can make a difference. It also helps with weight maintenance. That 30-minute brisk walk can still burn off your morning yogurt (about 130 calories). That’s a big deal because gaining a few pounds every year is typical as people age, and overweight and obesity is a cause of ten cancers.

Both lab and human research point to several ways in which regular activity may lower cancer risk, including:

  • Keeping your insulin and other hormone levels healthy: high levels of certain hormones increase risk of some cancers, such as postmenopausal breast
  • Strengthening your immune system
  • Helping your digestive system stay healthy and moving, thereby reducing time it's exposed to harmful substances
  • Helping with weight maintenance, allowing you to eat more food and more cancer-protective nutrients – without gaining weight
  • Creating a healthy metabolic environment in your body and reducing chronic, low-grade inflammation, which helps to avoid the cell damage and metabolic signals that can increase cancer risk

pa infographicPhysical activity also plays a critical role in many other areas of health, such as:

  • Lowering risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Improving energy, concentration and your mood
  • Strengthening bones and muscles
  • For cancer survivors, there is some research indicating being active can provide numerous benefits, such as better quality of life and reduced risk of later cancers

Are you active enough? Take our quiz and see.

AICR recommends that you aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate activity every day. Exercise for longer, such as 60 minutes a day, and the benefits increase. If you’re strapped for time or your just starting out, aim for bouts of 10  minutes at a time.

Government physical activity recommendations add that you lift weights, or do other muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week. These exercises can help you minimize bone loss, and improve strength and balance. 

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