Exercise could be the key to decreasing the risk of many cancers

April 11, 2019

Linda Sutton, MD
Ah, the golden cloud that descends on us every April in NC, announcing that Spring is literally in the air, has arrived along with bursting blooms and greening trees! 

Among the many wonderful things about spring, the warmer weather and longer days that beckon us outside to play are great news in the global war on cancer.  The warmer weather encourages us to get outside and get some exercise – much needed after a long, cold and wet winter. 

Exercise can improve our health in so many ways – strengthening our bones, decreasing our weight, improving immune system function and, as it turns out, is one of the most powerful things you can do to prevent the growth of cancer. 

For years now, we’ve had consistent scientific evidence that exercise decreases the risk of breast, colon and endometrial (uterus) cancers. A study published recently by the Journal of the American Medical Association, confirmed the benefits of exercise in preventing many additional types of cancer. 

Dr. Steven Moore and colleagues conducted a careful review of 12 prior studies. Dr. Moore found that leisure-time physical activity among the 1.44 million participants significantly decreased the risk of developing not only breast, colon and endometrial cancer, but also esophageal, liver, stomach, and kidney cancers, as well as some forms of blood cancers like leukemia or myeloma.

And the list goes on: lung, head and neck, bladder and rectal cancers were also strongly associated with decreased risk for those who are exercising. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of exercise to achieve the benefit. You don’t have to train for a marathon, do CrossFit, jog or even power walk. 

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week. Moderate intensity exercise includes activities as simple as walking at 3 miles per hour (or 20 minutes per mile). That is very do-able, especially because you don’t need to do it all at once. You can break the exercise up into 30 minute walks, say, at lunch 5 days per week – or 15 minute walks twice a day; or any combination of time and intensity that will work for you and your schedule.

Of course, if you have any medical problems, you want to check with your health care provider to make sure that the exercise you choose is right for you and your health. But, if you can, consider getting out there and joining the march against cancer!

Dr. Linda Sutton is the Duke Cancer Network medical director.