Physical Activity’s Impact on Cancer Prevention

Cancer has impacted everyone’s life in some way. Maybe a close family member, friend, or even you yourself have received the diagnosis. In 2018, an estimated 18.1 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and over half of those people passed away, making cancer the second leading cause of death worldwide. Here in the United States, the risk of diagnosis is 40% in men and 38% in women. Based on personal experiences as well as these statistics, it’s clear that cancer is a huge healthcare, financial, physical, and emotional burden. However, there is concrete proof that increasing your weekly amounts of physical activity can improve your chances of preventing cancer.


Cancer types associated with activity

There is strong evidence that you can lower your risk of the following types of cancer through exercise. The percentages in parenthesis indicate the amount by which your overall risk decreases when meeting weekly recommendations for activity:

  • Bladder cancer (13%)
  • Breast cancer (21%)
  • Colon cancer (19%)
  • Endometrial cancer (20%)
  • Esophageal cancer (21%)
  • Kidney cancer (12%)
  • Stomach cancer (19%)

Although specific mechanisms of prevention are still unknown, researchers speculate that there are several possibilities. Exercise can reduce inflammation throughout the body, as well as provide an immune system boost. It also helps to decrease the amount of insulin present in your bloodstream, which can be linked to cancer development and progression. Additionally, exercise is an excellent preventative for obesity, which is a risk factor for many types of cancer itself (Physical Activity, 2020).


Cancer types associated with sedentary time

Oppositely, more time on the couch can increase your risk for certain types of cancer. Not only is sitting for the bulk of the day linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, but there is also moderate evidence that suggests it may also increase the risk of endometrial, colon, and lung cancers. While it’s difficult to determine an exact amount of sitting that is detrimental to your health, why chance it? Moving as much as you can throughout the day can save you plenty of health complications (and dollars) down the road (Patel, et al. 2019).


How much exercise do I need?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. For the best benefits, resistance training a minimum of 2 days per week is also encouraged. While this might seem like a lot, any amount of movement is good for you! Even a 10-minute walk contributes to your weekly totals. If this still seems like an overwhelming amount of activity, start small and work your way up to 30 minutes per day.

Still unsure where to start? Your physical therapist can assist you in identifying places and methods to incorporate more activity into your day. A PT can also help you understand other risk factors for cancer, like family history and other illnesses. We want to help keep you keep cancer at bay so you can move better, feel better, and live longer.


  1. PATEL, ALPA V.1; FRIEDENREICH, CHRISTINE M.2; MOORE, STEVEN C.3; HAYES, SANDRA C.4; SILVER, JULIE K.5; CAMPBELL, KRISTIN L.6; WINTERS-STONE, KERRI7; GERBER, LYNN H.8; GEORGE, STEPHANIE M.9; FULTON, JANET E.10; DENLINGER, CRYSTAL11; MORRIS, G. STEPHEN12; HUE, TRISHA13; SCHMITZ, KATHRYN H.14; MATTHEWS, CHARLES E.3American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable Report on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Cancer Prevention and Control, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2019 – Volume 51 – Issue 11 – p 2391-2402 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002117
  2. Physical activity and cancer fact sheet. (2020, February 10). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from