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Regular Exercise May Help Reduce Risk of Breast and Other Cancers

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, people who are physically active may have lower risk for certain cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer, and endometrial cancer compared with sedentary people.1 In addition, data from a study of more than 1 million people showed that leisure-time physical activity is associated with less risk of certain gastric and organ cancers, including esophageal cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, and bladder and kidney cancer as well as cancers of the lymphatic system, cancers of the head and neck, and cancer of the rectum.2,3,4,5,6

Ask your Summit Medical Group doctor about cancer screening.

How Physical Activity May Reduce Cancer Risk

Researchers believe exercise / physical activity may contribute to less risk for certain cancers by:

  1. Helping prevent obesity and its harmful effects such as insulin resistance
  2. Reducing inflammation, which may contribute to cancer development
  3. Boosting the immune system, which may help protect against cancer development

Some studies of breast cancer show physical activity can lower levels of hormones such as estrogen and insulin, which are associated with the development and progression of breast cancer.7 Certain studies of colon cancer show exercise lessens exposure to bile acids in the gastrointestinal tract and it can speed up the time food travels through the digestive system, both of which may help protect against colon cancer.8,9

How much physical activity do you need to be healthy?

To get benefits of physical activity, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidelines recommend that adults engage in aerobic exercise for periods of 10 minutes or more for a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout each week.10

DHHS guidelines suggest that children and teens engage in moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise at least 60 minutes 3 or more days a week and include muscle- and bone-strengthening physical activity in their 60 minutes or more of exercise at least 3 days a week.10

Walking, hiking, jogging, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, ice skating, and sports such as tennis, soccer, and basketball are good physical activities to get the exercise you need each week.

Before you start a new or intensify your current exercise routine, 
see your Summit Medical Group doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to exercise.

In addition to regular exercise, the American Cancer Society recommends healthy lifestyle habits to help lower your risk of colon cancer, including:11

  • Getting screened according to your doctor’s and American Cancer Society recommendations
    • Breast cancer, colon cancer, and other cancer screening can detect cancer in its early stages when treatment may be most effective
  • Eating a healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats and other processed foods
    Some research shows lower rates of certain cancers in people who eat a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
    Being overweight or obese increases risk of obesity-related health problems such as diabetes/insulin resistance
  • Not smoking
    Research shows that smoking increases risk of breast, colon, and lung cancer
  • Limiting alcohol
    Heavy drinking may increase risk of certain digestive cancers and colon cancer. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends that men have no more than 2 alcohol drinks per day and women have no more than 1 alcohol drink per day. A single alcohol drink is 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled alcohol, or 12 ounces of beer

Although studies suggest exercise and other healthy lifestyle behaviors may contribute to less risk of certain cancers, they do not confirm that being physically active and adopting a healthy lifestyle prevent cancer or that not being physically active and adopting a healthy lifestyle causes cancer. Still, timely cancer screenings, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcohol are steps you can take to help protect your overall health and quality of life.


Learn about the Summit Medical Group Cancer Center,
which offers comprehensive screening, care, and treatment
for patients with cancer.


  1. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007. Accessed September 20, 2018. Wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Second-Expert-Report.pdf.
  2. Moore SC, Lee IM, Weiderpass E, et al. Association of leisure-time physical activity with risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million adults. JAMA Internal Medicin.e 2016; 176(6):816-825.
  3. Behrens G, Matthews CE, Moore SC, et al. The association between frequency of vigorous physical activity and hepatobiliary cancers in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. European J Epidemiol. 2013; 28(1):55-66.
  4. Behrens G, Jochem C, Keimling M, et al. The association between physical activity and gastroesophageal cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis. European J Epidemiol. 2014; 29(3):151-170.
  5. Behrens G, Leitzmann MF. The association between physical activity and renal cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis. Brit J Cancer. 2013; 108(4):798-811.
  6. Keimling M, Behrens G, Schmid D, Jochem C, Leitzmann MF. The association between physical activity and bladder cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis. Brit J Cancer. 2014; 110(7):1862-1870.
  7. Winzer BM, Whiteman DC, Reeves MM, Paratz JD. Physical activity and cancer prevention: a systematic review of clinical trials. Cancer Causes Control. 2011; 22(6):811-826.
  8. Wertheim BC, Martinez ME, Ashbeck EL, et al. Physical activity as a determinant of fecal bile acid levels. Cancer Epidemiol, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2009; 18(5):1591-1598.
  9. Bernstein H, Bernstein C, Payne CM, Dvorakova K, Garewal H. Bile acids as carcinogens in human gastrointestinal cancers. Mutation Research. 2005; 589(1):47-65.
  10. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health.gov. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary. health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/summary.aspx. Accessed September 22, 2018.
  11. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Prevention and Early Detection Guidelines. cancer.org/healthy. Accessed September 22, 2018.