Get Moving to Slash Your Risk of 7 Cancers

You already know that exercise is good for the heart. New research shows that working out cuts cancer risk, too.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

It seems like every day there’s a new study about “this will give you cancer”—and frankly, it’s depressing, and often scary. But here’s some good cancer prevention news to motivate your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym, take a daily walk, or maybe even dig those dusty hiking boots out of your closet.

An analysis of more than 750,000 adults found that getting the recommended amounts of physical activity is linked to a reduced risk of seven different cancers, according to a study from the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

So yes, that means those official government exercise recommendations are actually legit. Need a refresher on those? We’ve got you: Healthy adults should shoot for 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity per week, according to the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Getting the recommended amounts of activity weekly was linked to a significantly lower risk of seven cancers, per the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. And the risk was even lower the more exercise the participants got. Those seven cancers include:

  • Colon cancer in men (8-14% lower risk)

  • Breast cancer in women (6-10% lower risk)

  • Endometrial cancer (10-18% lower risk)

  • Kidney cancer (11-17%)

  • Myeloma (14-19%)

  • Liver cancer (18-27%)

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in women (11-18%)

"Physical activity guidelines have largely been based on their impact on chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes," said Alpa Patel, Ph.D., senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society in a news release. "These data provide strong support that these recommended levels are important to cancer prevention, as well."

What Kind of Exercise Counts?

Wondering what counts as “moderate” or “vigorous” activity? Here are some handy examples, from the American Heart Association:

Examples of moderate-intensity activities:

  • Brisk walking

  • Ballroom dancing

  • Gardening

  • Riding your bike 10 mph or slower

  • Doubles tennis

  • Water aerobics

Examples of vigorous activity include:

  • Jogging or running

  • Riding your bike faster than 10 mph

  • Jumping rope

  • Singles tennis

  • Swimming laps

  • Aerobic dancing

And you can split up the recommended amount of time over multiple sessions—you don’t have to do it all in one go. And remember: The best type of exercise is the type you’ll do willingly—and enjoy! So, find something that you love—and ask a friend to join you for extra motivation.

  • Examples of Physical Activity: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity? (2015). American Heart Association. heart.org

  • Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. (2018). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. health.gov

  • News Release on Study on Exercise and Cancer: Report links recommended physical activity levels to lower risk of seven cancers. (2019). American Cancer Society. eurekalert.org

  • Study on Exercise and Cancer: Journal of Clinical Oncology. (2019). “Amount and Intensity of Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Lower Cancer Risk.” ascopubs.org

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.