Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can influence the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases in addition to dietary factors and smoking and alcohol consumption.
Being active throughout a person’s life is just as important as what we eat and what we drink and if we smoke or not. The amount of physical activity a person engages in their lifetime can dramatically impact not only their quality of life but their potential for developing diseases such as cancer and other chronic diseases.
Studies have shown that as we age our activity levels decrease and that decrease in exercise has a direct association with decreased life expectancy. There are many national initiatives that support increasing physical activity among all age groups.
What motivates people to exercise is different for everyone, some value the idea of physical activity and have been able to experience the benefits from daily exercises, such as improved sleep, better mental health, reduced stress and anxiety, reduced risk of depression, improved energy levels, and the obvious, increased muscle tone and definition which keeps our bones healthy and strong. Some people also have a natural disposition for exercise and it may come easy to them as a result of being active for their whole life. Others have to make a conscious effort to exercise and it is work every day, but the payoff is well worth the dedication.
Being physically active requires a minimum of 30 minutes a day of intentional activity at a moderate level to achieve health benefits.
If you are beginning your quest to increase physical activity in your life, start slow. Start with 15 minutes of walking or riding a bike and build up from there to achieve a goal of 30 minutes or more per day.
The research looking at physical activity and its association have found that leisure-time activity resulted in lower risks of colon, breast and endometrial cancers. Additionally, The National Cancer Institute notes a study that found a relationship between increased physical activity and decreased risks in other types of cancer. Specifically, the greatest risk reductions were found in esophageal, liver, gastric, kidney, and myeloid leukemia cancers.
Other types of cancers that showed significant reductions but didn’t show as strong of an association include head and neck, rectum, and bladder cancers.
Physical activity is not only important for cancer prevention but in survivorship and beyond. Keep in mind that a little physical activity is better than none at all — every bit of activity can help.
As always, make sure to check with your doctor before starting to exercise to avoid injury.
Kate Ueland, MS, RD specializes in oncology nutrition, primarily working with breast, ovarian, renal, and melanoma cancer patients throughout all stages of the cancer journey at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) in Seattle, WA. As Cook for Your Life’s nutrition advisor and editor, Kate ensures all culinary content adheres to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and follows science-based guidelines.