Regular Exercise May Help Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer

Last updated: Mar 01, 2018

In a National Cancer Institute study involving more than 1.4 million participants, researchers found that people with the highest levels of physical activity had lower rates of colon cancer compared with those who had the lowest levels of physical activity.1

According to researchers, exercise may help lower rates of colon cancer in some people by:1

  • Improving immune function
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Reducing the time for food to move through the colon, therefore reducing exposure
  • to carcinogens
  • Lowering levels of certain hormones, including insulin and estrogen that may contribute to the development and growth of cancer
  • Decreasing growth factors associated with the development and growth of cancer

To learn more about your risk for colon cancer,
talk with your Summit Medical Group practitioner

She or he may recommend screening
depending on your age, personal health history, and family health history.

How much exercise is enough?

To get substantial health benefits from exercise, 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.2

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.2

Walking, hiking, jogging, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, ice skating, and sports such as tennis, soccer, and basketball are good ways to get the aerobic 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:3

  • Getting screened according to your doctor’s and American Cancer Society recommendations
    Colon cancer screening can detect polyps and colon 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 colon cancer 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 colon cancer
  • Limiting alcohol
    Heavy drinking may increase risk of 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 data suggest exercise and other healthy lifestyle behaviors may contribute to less risk of colon cancer, they do not confirm that being physically active and adopting a healthy lifestyle prevent cancer or that not doing so causes cancer. Still, 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 feel good.


1.     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 Intern Med. 2016;176(6):816-825.

2.     Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary. Accessed February 22, 2018.

3.     American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Prevention and Early Detection Guidelines. Accessed February 22, 2018.