You Can Decrease Your Cancer Risk. How? Move More!

A new study has shown that more leisure-time physical activity is associated with a lower risk of developing 13 different types of cancer! Leisure-time physical activity is exercise done at one’s own discretion, often to improve or maintain fitness or health. Examples include walking, running, swimming, and other moderate to vigorous intensity activities. In this study, the average level of activity was about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, which is the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation.

Hundreds of previous studies have examined associations between physical activity and cancer risk and shown reduced risks for colon, breast and endometrial cancers. However results were not as clear for other cancer types due to small number of participants. This new study pooled data on 1.44 million people, ages 19 to 98, from the United States and Europe, and was able to examine a broad range of cancers. Participants were followed for an average of 11 years during which 187,000 new cases of cancer occurred.

The investigators confirmed that leisure-time physical activity, determined by self-reported surveys, was associated with a lower risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. They also determined that leisure-time physical activity was associated with a lower risk of 10 additional cancers, with the greatest risk reductions for esophageal, liver, stomach, kidney and myeloid leukemia. Myeloma and cancers of the head and neck, rectum, and bladder also showed reduced risks that were significant, but not as strong. Risk was reduced for lung cancer, but only for current and former smokers; the reasons for this are still being studied.

Here is the information in a nutshell:

  • Esophageal cancer, a 42% lower risk
  • Liver cancer, a 27% lower risk
  • Lung cancer, a 26% lower risk
  • Kidney cancer, a 23% lower risk
  • Stomach cancer of the cardia (top portion of the stomach), a 22% lower risk
  • Endometrial cancer, a 21% lower risk
  • Myeloid leukemia, a 20% lower risk
  • Myeloma, a 17% lower risk
  • Colon cancer, a 16% lower risk
  • Head and neck cancer, a 15% lower risk
  • Rectal cancer, a 13% lower risk
  • Bladder cancer, a 13% lower risk
  • Breast cancer, a 10% lower risk

Overall, high levels of physical activity were linked with a 7% lower risk of any cancer, according to the study. The association between increased physical activity and decreased cancer risk is applicable to different populations, including people who are overweight or obese, or those with a history of smoking. Health care professionals counseling inactive adults should promote physical activity as a component of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention.

Sources: National Institutes of Health