Physical activity linked to a lower risk of many cancers

Almost 1.5 million healthy adults in the United States and Europe told researchers about their exercise habits and other healthy or unhealthy aspects of their life. After an average of 11 years, some of these men and women had been diagnosed with different types of cancer. By comparing the most active people to the least active people at the beginning of the study, they found that the most active adults had less risk for 13 different types of cancer. 

Risk among exercisers was lessened substantially for the following cancers:  esophagusl (decrease of 42%); liver (decrease of 27%); lung (decrease of 26%); kidney (decrease of 23); gastric cardia (decrease of 22%); endometrium/uterus (decrease of 21%); myeloid leukemia (decrease of 20%); myeloma (decrease of 17%); colon (decrease of 16%); head and neck (decrease of15%); rectum (decrease of 13%); bladder (decrease of 13%); and breast (decrease of 10%). For most of these cancers (all but liver, gastric cardia and endometrial), the protective effect of exercise was seen regardless of weight status, suggesting that physical activity is important for reducing risk no matter if you are at a normal weight or not.

What does this information mean to you, or how can you use it?

This is great news for all adults who are concerned about their cancer risk, but it has even greater implications for cancer survivors who are at increased risk for getting another cancer.  The current recommendations are to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days each week, which was the average amount reported in this research. If your activity level is low or completely absent, you are in the higher risk group—luckily you can get out of that group one small step at a time.

Get moving. You don’t have to join a gym.  Make sure your doctor is okay with you being more active.  Perhaps they can help find a plan that works best for you. The important thing is that you get started, even if it is only walking a block or two the first day. If you are already active, be encouraged that you are reducing your cancer risk.  Keep going!


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