Does Working Out Prevent Cancer?

We all know that exercise is good for our health, but does working out prevent cancer? Some studies suggest that it does, but the evidence is far from conclusive. Let’s take a closer look at the science to see if there’s anything we can learn about how exercise affects our risk of cancer.


One of the most common questions people ask is whether participating in physical activity can help to reduce the risk of cancer. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can indeed have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being, including helping reduce the risk of several types of cancer. In this article, we will explore the evidence that suggests that physical activity can indeed be beneficial in reducing the risk of cancer.

Overview of cancer

Cancer is a term used to describe the abnormal growth of cells which can spread throughout the body. It occurs when cells grow faster than normal and form clumps called tumors in certain parts of the body. Tumors can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumors cause cancer.

In the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death, accounting for more than 600,000 deaths each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be nearly 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed each year in the US. In addition to this staggering statistic, it has been estimated that 33% of all cancers could be prevented with healthy lifestyle habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet with mostly plant-based foods.

While much research is still being conducted about prevention methods and early treatments for cancer, these simple lifestyle modifications have been effective at preventing certain types of cancer or reducing an individual’s risk factors for developing cancer. In particular, ample evidence suggests that regular physical activity can reduce an individual’s risk of developing many forms of cancer including colorectal, breast and prostate cancers as well as other common cancers such as lung and bladder/kidney cancers.

Overview of physical activity

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and many research studies have highlighted its potential role in reducing the risk of cancer. While it is impossible to definitively prove that physical activity can prevent cancer, there is evidence to suggest that increased physical activity may lead to lower incidence of some cancers. Because getting adequate exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight and keep other risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure under control, it is thought that those who make a point of exercising regularly have a decreased risk of cancer.

Regular physical activity has been associated with reductions in the risk of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers, as well as leukemia-related cancers. However, different types of exercise lead to different benefits – aerobic exercises like running or walking can improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation for overall health protection; strength training may play an important role in balance regulation and support healthy bones; stretching and flexibility activities can help reduce the aches and pains associated with age-related conditions. To maximize the potential benefit to your cancer prevention plan, it is important to make sure you are doing all types of exercise on a regular basis.

Evidence of Physical Activity’s Role in Cancer Prevention

Physical activity has long been known to have an array of benefits for overall health, including a reduced risk for some types of cancer. Studies have been conducted on the effects of physical activity on cancer development and progression, giving us a better understanding of the biological pathways in which physical activity can protect against cancer. In this article, we will explore the evidence of physical activity’s role in cancer prevention.

Studies on physical activity and cancer prevention

Physical activity plays an important role in cancer prevention, with several studies confirming its effectiveness. According to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research, regular physical activity is “strongly associated” with reduced risk of 13 types of cancer. A healthy level of physical activity has been linked to a lower risk of colon, breast, prostate, endometrial and lung cancers.

There is no single consensus as to how much physical activity someone should participate in for cancer prevention but health organizations generally recommend following the guidelines for general health recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 150 minutes a week (about 20 minutes per day) of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week (about 10 minutes per day) of intense physical activity like running or swimming. A combination of these can also be effective; any form of movement counts!

The effects may even be greater when people start exercising regularly at younger ages: Studies have also shown that people who are physically active before they are diagnosed with cancer may experience better overall outcomes than those who do not engage in regular exercise prior to diagnosis. It appears that daily moderate-to-vigorous exercise helps slow down tumor growth and spread throughout the body by boosting immunity and it may even slow the progression of certain cancers like mesothelioma and pancreatic cancer if it is continued during treatment. It is never too late to begin a regular program — anyone who chooses to become more active can help lessen their chances for developing certain types of cancer or improve survival rates if diagnosed with one.

Risk reduction from physical activity

The American Cancer Society recommends that regular physical activity can reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Some health benefits of physical activity include weight control and improved metabolism, which can help reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Studies have also suggested that higher levels of physical activity also protect against more individual types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, and bladder cancers.

At least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hour) per week with vigorous activity is recommended by the American Cancer Society to reduce the risk associated with developing cancer. Regular exercise during adulthood provides even more protection against breast and colon cancers if the exercise began prior to adulthood.

Physical activity requires energy expenditure that could be helpful in reducing body fat cells. Studies have found that people with a higher BMI have an increased risk for some cancers; there is evidence to suggest a connection between obesity and estrogen related cancers like breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers as well as adenocarcinomas like colon cancer. Regular exercise and healthy dieting are both important factors for maintaining a healthy weight which can greatly reduce an individual’s risk factors for cancer; effective mechanisms for managing weight through these methods will benefit both a person’s overall health as well as their specific type cancer risks.

Types of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is a great way to help reduce your risk of developing cancer. Different types of physical activity can have different effects on reducing cancer risk. From running to strength training, there are several types of physical activity that can help you reduce your cancer risk. In this section, we’ll explore the different types of physical activity and the impact they have on reducing your cancer risk.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is the type of physical activity that involves increased oxygen to the muscles so they can work over a longer period. It is often described as cardio or endurance exercise and includes activities such as running, swimming, cycling, and walking. Aerobic exercises strengthen your heart and lungs while helping to improve your overall cardiovascular fitness. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week for cancer prevention – this breaks down to just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, five days a week. In order to get the most out of your workout, it is important to stretch before and after doing any activity. Activities such as stretching or yoga help reduce stress and activate your body’s natural healing processes.

Strength training

Strength training is an important form of physical activity that can help you to prevent cancer. It involves using resistance equipment (such as weights, exercise bands, and machines) to increase muscle strength and endurance. It can also help to build bone density and improve balance and coordination. Doing strength training two or three times per week for about 30 minutes per session is recommended for most adults.

Strength training exercises generally fall into one of four categories:
-Weight-bearing exercises: These involve standing or moving around with some sort of weight in your hands or on your body, like with weighted vests, dumbbells, kettlebells, cables machines or barbells.
-Bodyweight exercises: These use the weight of your own body for resistance against gravity and generally include push-ups, pull-ups and squats.
-Isometrics: These involve tensing a muscle without movement as a means of gaining strength. For example, this type of exercise could include wall squats where you press yourself up against a wall in a crouching position without actually squatting down.
-Plyometric exercises: These are explosive movements that require you to quickly change direction while jumping or lifting weights off the ground. Examples of plyometric exercises include jump squats, clap push ups and box jumps.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can have a positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing. It can help us to prevent and manage health conditions, improve physical fitness, reduce stress, and improve overall mood. In addition to the mental and physical benefits, there is evidence to suggest that physical activity can also reduce the risk of various forms of cancer. Let’s look at how exactly physical activity can be beneficial in reducing the risk of cancer.

Improved immune system

Engaging in regular physical activity can significantly improve the strength of the body’s immune system.Through the movement of muscles and efficient circulation, physical activity forces germs and toxins to be excreted from the body and increases levels of endorphins in the bloodstream which improves overall health and well-being. Additionally, physical activity has been shown to reduce inflammation within organs and systems, which suppresses growths that may lead to development of certain types of cancer. Studies have also indicated that by increasing physical activity levels, individuals are able to reduce their risk of certain types of cancer over time. Regular physical activity produces natural antibodies that fight not only against infection but also against cells which are cancerous or could potentially become so in the future.

Improved mental health

Physical activity has many proven benefits, not just when it comes to physical health, but also in regards to mental health as well. Studies have shown that regular exercise and physical activity can effectively reduce anxiety, depression, and stress levels. This is especially important during times of high uncertainty, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Regular physical activity can also improve sleep quality, boost energy levels and help people focus better when performing tasks. It can also increase self-esteem and promote a general sense of well-being. Participating in regular physical activities helps people to feel more in control of their lives and gives them a sense of achievement when they’re able to complete a workout or exercise session without difficulty.

Moreover, engaging in physically active pastimes with others provides an opportunity for socializing, which helps ward off feelings of isolation or loneliness. For those struggling with mental or emotional wellbeing issues or even mild forms of depression, participating in physical activities may be just the therapy needed for improved mental health overall.

Limitations of Physical Activity

A lot of research has been done on the subject of physical activity and its potential to reduce the risk of cancer. While physical activity has been linked to a host of positive outcomes, there are limitations to its ability to lower cancer risk. Let’s take a closer look at these limitations and how they can be managed.

Lack of access to facilities

Lack of access to facilities can be a significant barrier to physical activity. Being physically active requires access to good quality spaces which allow safe and enjoyable exercise. In some parts of the world, there is limited access to sport and recreation centers, gyms or adequate open spaces for individuals trying to improve their fitness level and participate in sports. Additionally, some parts of the world may lack well-designed parks, trails or properly maintained facilities that are facilitated for physical activities. Without such basic infrastructure, it is more difficult for people in these areas to make physical activity a part of their lifestyle and thus reduce their risk for developing cancer.

Time constraints

Physical activity can play an important role in helping to prevent cancer and related chronic diseases. However, a large part of the population is either unwilling or unable to participate in regular exercise due to various limitations, with time being one of the most common.

With long hours at work and obligations to familial and social responsibilities, many individuals find that there is simply not enough time for any physical activity. Moreover, research suggests that simply meeting the recommended physical activity levels (150 minutes of moderate-intensity) per week can be difficult for busy people due to lack of time constraints.

Due to this limitation, it is even more important those individuals who are able should try their best to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives as much as possible while still balancing other aspects such as work and family life. Additionally, advances in fitness technology have made it easier than ever with virtual coaching sessions making keeping on track more manageable even with limited time available each day.


Research has shown that regular physical activity can in fact reduce the risk of certain cancers. Regular physical activity helps to reduce inflammation as well as promote healthy body weight, both of which have been linked to lower cancer risk. Furthermore, physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, which may also help reduce the risk of cancer.

Summary of evidence

The evidence shows that physical activity can reduce cancer risk, in some cases substantially. In the development of any disease, multiple factors are likely to be at work. Therefore, physical activity is not a be-all and end-all to preventing cancer. It is important to note that eating a balanced diet, not smoking, getting regular checkups and medical screenings (as appropriate,) along with remaining physically active can all contribute to reducing your risk of cancer significantly.

Studies have found a clear link between exercise or physical activity and lower cancer risk for a wide range of cancers, including breast, prostate, colon/rectum and uterine cancers. Physical activity may reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancers by 30 percent–40 percent in some studies; it may reduce the risks associated with cancers from other areas of the body by 20 percent–30 percent; it may even protect against childhood leukemia. Additionally, research has shown that one hour per day or more of moderate or vigorous exercise can further reduce colorectal cancer risk by 60 percent–70 percent compared to people who exercised less than an hour daily.

In conclusion, while there is still much research needed on this topic, it appears that individuals who get sufficient levels of regular physical activity through exercise can significantly lower their overall cancer risk.

Recommendations for further research

While numerous studies have found that physical exercise can have positive effects in terms of cancer prevention, further research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms working behind many of these effects and if any additional methods can be implemented to maximize the results.

Studies must also consider possible tumorgenesis-promoting effects associated with certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training, that may actually increase the risk of developing cancer. Also, although some of the prevention measures enforced by regular physical activity are well established, more investigation is needed to better understand how sedentary lifestyles predispose individuals to more severe forms of cancer.

Finally, researchers should investigate whether other lifestyle factors like diet, supplement intake or stress management can further amplify the tumor preventive benefits associated with exercise. This could result in additional recommendations to optimize physical activity for maximum cancer prevention.

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