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July 2019

Step It Up to Cut Cancer Risk

Need a reason to lace up your sneakers and head out the door? Whether you prefer a neighborhood stroll, a yoga class, or a round of golf, exercise can do more than keep you fit—it may reduce your risk of developing cancer as well.

Woman jogging outdoors, carrying hand weights

Previous research found a link between exercise and a lower risk for breast, endometrial, and colon cancer. But a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that exercise may reduce the risk for 10 other cancers as well, including lung, esophageal, and liver cancer.

Up your activity level

To help prevent cancer, how active do you need to be? For best health:

  • Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise each week.

  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.

  • Older adults should participate in balance-training activities.

Cardio exercise includes activity that uses major muscle groups, gets your heart rate up, and makes you breathe harder. Moderate-intensity activity includes:

  • Brisk walking

  • Bicycling

  • Water aerobics

Vigorous-intensity activity means you’re breathing hard and fast. It includes:

  • Running or jogging

  • Swimming laps

  • Playing tennis or basketball

Muscle-strengthening exercises include:

  • Push-ups

  • Pull-ups

  • Planks

  • Biceps curls

  • Calf raises

Balance exercises include:

  • Standing on one foot

  • Heel-to-toe walking (with arms out for balance)

  • Walking backward

Here’s the great part about this form of cancer prevention: It doesn’t have to cost you a thing. Household chores, yard work, gardening, and walking all count as moderate-intensity activity.

If you have physical limitations, look for exercise options that will work for you. Adaptive yoga classes, water exercise, and moves that use exercise bands may all be a good fit.

No matter what your ability, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Maintain a healthy weight

Exercise is only part of the cancer-prevention picture. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for many types of cancers. Keeping tabs on your BMI can help you stay at a healthy weight. Calculate your BMI.  

Here’s how to interpret your BMI:

  • Underweight: BMI lower than 18.5

  • Normal: BMI between 18.5 and 24.9

  • Overweight: BMI between 25 and 29.9

  • Obese: BMI higher than 30

If your BMI is outside the normal range, talk with your doctor about what you can do to raise or lower it. And see him or her annually to discuss how you can stay active and reduce your cancer risk.

The good news: Regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy BMI. That’s one more benefit of being active! When you make exercise a priority, you’ll boost your odds of staying healthy and help prevent cancer.


Other ways to prevent cancer

  • Get cancer screenings.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Limit alcohol.

  • Protect your skin from the sun.

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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