Does Exercise Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

Does Exercise Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

(Last Updated On: April 17, 2019)

Does exercise reduce your cancer risk?The prospect of getting “the big C” is enough to motivate some people to lead a healthy lifestyle. Cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease, and it’s the disease that frightens people the most. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of some types of cancer, but what about exercise? Can staying active reduce the cancer risk of getting this frightening disease?

Exercise and Cancer Risk: Is It Protective?

Exercise has benefits when it comes to warding off certain types of cancer. When Finnish researchers followed almost 2,600 middle-aged Finnish men for 17 years, they found men who were the most physically active had an overall lower risk of getting cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and the lung.

The link between exercise and a lower cancer risk is strongest for cancers of the breast and colon in women, but the protective effect is greatest if you also get enough sleep. A 2008 study showed that women who were the most physically active had a lower risk of getting any type of cancer, especially breast cancer as long as they slept at least 7 hours a night.

Not getting enough shut-eye seems to negate some of the benefits of exercise on cancer risk. This isn’t surprising since lack of sleep has been linked with a higher risk of certain diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Not getting enough sleep alters hormones and the immune system in a way that may boost cancer risk. It also increases the risk of obesity, another risk factor for some types of cancer.

Vigorous Exercise is Better

All forms of exercise reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer to some degree, but more vigorous workouts appear to be most protective. One study showed that women who walked at a brisk pace at least 5 hours a week were less likely to get colon cancer compared to those who walked at a leisurely pace. Vigorous exercise may be particularly effective for keeping breast cancer at bay.

 Exercise and Breast Cancer Risk

Breast cancer is a disease that is responsive to high levels of physical activity. Vigorous activity helps to lower estrogen levels, which reduces the risk of some types of breast cancer, especially in women who aren’t obese.

Vigorous activities are activities where you’re breathing so hard that it’s difficult to talk in complete sentences. Running, jogging, skipping rope, and kickboxing all fall into this category. It also includes non-exercise related activities such as vigorously scrubbing the floors, heavy gardening and heavy yard work. Moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, slow jogging or swimming laps doesn’t offer the same degree of breast cancer protection that more vigorous exercise does.

How important a factor is physical activity for reducing the risk of breast cancer? According to a German study, lack of exercise accounts for almost 13% of all breast cancer cases. Sounds like a pretty good reason to keep sweating, doesn’t it?

 The Bottom Line?

Exercise is one of the few cancer risk factors you can control. Working out vigorously on a regular basis may cut your risk of breast and colon cancer, and possibly other cancers as well. If you have health problems that make it difficult to do high-intensity exercise, take a brisk walk each day, and keep your overall activity level high throughout the day. Combine that with a healthy diet and at least 7 hours of sleep a night and you can put a dent in your cancer risk.



Medical News Today. “Avoidable Breast Cancer Risk Factors Identified”

Science Daily. “Exercise and Rest Reduce Cancer Risk”

New York Times. “Phys Ed: Does Exercise Reduce Your Cancer Risk?”

Web MD. “Vigorous Exercise Cuts Breast Cancer Risk”


Related Articles By Cathe:

5 Ways Aerobic Exercise Lowers the Risk of Cancer

Metabolic Health May Be More Important Than Body Weight for Breast Cancer Risk

Short, Intense Exercise May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Are High-Sugar Diets Linked with Breast Cancer?

Working Out May Lower Your Risk of Developing 13 Types of Cancer

Exercise and Breast Health: Can Exercise Keep Your Breasts Healthy?

5 thoughts on “Does Exercise Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

  1. I always laugh at this kind of information anymore. For 10 years I exercised 6 days a week (w/Cathe workouts, mind you), ate well, and still got Stage III breast cancer at age 37.

    Your biggest risk for cancer? Being a living, breathing human being. Your biggest risk for breast cancer? Being female. (Although men do get breast cancer too, so even that’s not an absolute.)

  2. I am so sorry to hear that, Emienz2. Sometimes life just deals us a bad hand no matter what we do to prevent disease.

    The problem I have with these studies is that the human subjects are almost always MALE. Even the Doll and Hill study that proved smoking was a killer was a 25 year study of white males. That is not saying that there are studies on female subjects; it is just more rare.

    And yes, men get breast cancer. When I was working on my Master’s Degree in Public Health one of my classmates who was a nurse practitioner was helping care for a man and woman who were married for breast cancer. Female cancers usually start in milk ducts which men do not have.

    Again, I see your point and I wish you the best. The good thing is you have youth on your side.

  3. Thanks for the note, Tiffany. I’m 45 now and have been cancer free since 2007.

    You’re right about the subjects of all this research. I even read one study that claimed surfing the Internet in a dark room can increase your risk of breast cancer. Add that to the deodorant risk, the underwire bra risk, the red lipstick risk, the hair coloring risk, and the poison that is sugar and basically it seems everything puts you at risk for cancer. At-yi-yi-yi!! What’s a human to do?

  4. @ eminenz2 –

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope and pray that you will be cancer free forever! I do agree with you about the biggest risk for cancer is being a living breathing human being. We can only do so much to prevent cancer. I also think environmental factors come into play as well. One can hardly avoid exposure to dirty air, car exhaust, toxins in everyday products, etc.

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