There is a connection between physical activity and cancer.

Walker tying shoelaces

While it’s been known for years that a healthy diet and weight can help minimize your risk of cancer, a major study by researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society found that regular exercise can actually decrease your risk for 13 different cancers.

The 2016 study reviewed physical activity levels of more than 1.4 million people in the United States and Europe—one of the largest studies on cancer prevention and exercise to date.

Researchers found the risk for more than half of the cancer types was 20-40 percent lower among people who were physically active.

These were not elite athletes. People who were mildly active—walking for 30 minutes at a time at least five days a week—had notably lower cancer risks. Higher levels of healthy activity corresponded with further reductions in cancer risk.

What the research says about exercise and cancer.

Exercise may help for your type of cancer.

The recent study cited benefits from exercise for patients with these types of cancer.

  • Bladder
  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Endometrial
  • Esophageal
  • Head and neck
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myeloid leukemia
  • Rectal
  • Stomach
Here’s what happens to your body when you exercise.

Regular exercise burns calories and strengthens muscles. It also boosts your body’s immune system and helps regulate hormones such as estrogen and insulin.

With up to one-third of all cancer-related deaths linked to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, it’s important to get and stay active to reduce your risk of getting cancer.

It’s easy to begin.

If you briskly walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you are reaching the recommended baseline for increased physical activity. That can be done over a work lunch break or at any other time of day. 

The American Cancer Society suggests that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

Generally, moderate activity is any activity that increases your heart rate and makes you breathe hard. The key is to get your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Walking outside or on a treadmill at 3 mph is defined as moderate intensity—that’s the equivalent of walking one mile in 20 minutes.

Consider these ways to increase your physical activity.

Many people think about working out at a gym as a way to increase physical activity. But there are so many other ways to be active. Find some that you enjoy.

Go outdoors—walking, running, hiking, bicycling, and swimming are good leisure activities to enjoy and can help burn calories and keep your weight under control.

At home, ramp up your movements as you do household chores—bending and stretching to dust and clean, pushing a vacuum cleaner around, or mopping the floor all count as exercise.

And why not turn on the music and put a little dance in your steps as you move about? It’s fun and burns calories, too!

Do you have kids? You can burn more than 200 calories an hour during vigorous play.

More ways to increase your level of activity:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Grab a friend or co-worker to exercise with you—it’s more fun and keeps you motivated.
  • Do exercises while watching television or during commercial breaks. You can do sit-ups, leg lifts, squats, push-ups, toe-touches or run in place while watching television or during commercial breaks.
Check with your doctor first.

If you have not added exercise to your routine yet, check with your doctor about any precautions. Your doctor can recommend exercise routines that work for your current health and can help set realistic goals for where your exercise commitment can take you.