Cancer Prevention: Fitness and Exercise


To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Exercise is one of the most important prevention tools for many health conditions, including cancer.

As many as one in five cancer-related deaths is linked to obesity – excess body weight. Obesity is expected to contribute to approximately half a million new cases of cancer in the United States by 2030.

How exercise and fitness help prevent cancer

“Fitness” means being in good physical health – controlling your weight and reducing your risk for serious medical conditions, including heart diseasediabetes, and cancer.

Research has shown that living a sedentary life can increase your risk for these health problems, and others. The American Cancer Society’s 13-year Cancer Prevention II study found that women who sat for six hours per day had a 37 percent increased risk of death over the course of the study; for men, it was 17 percent. In fact, excessive sitting has been dubbed “the new smoking” because of the serious health conditions that can develop from not being active.

Exercise has been shown to reduce risk for breastcolon, and endometrial cancer. Some studies also suggest that exercise can lower the risk for prostate and lung cancer, though more research is needed.

In general, the more you exercise, the better. We recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day for adults. Aerobic activity includes walking, running, swimming, and other activities that get your heart and lungs pumping.

The connection between obesity and cancer

Obesity causes changes in insulin resistance, which may promote excessive cell growth, resulting in tumors. People who are obese also tend to have higher estrogen levels. Fat cells convert cholesterol molecules to estrogen, which can cause a hormonal imbalance. The imbalance can lead to cell mutations and cause cancer.

When you’re setting your weight loss goals, consider your body mass index (BMI). This number helps your doctor determine whether your weight is appropriate for your height. You can calculate your BMI online or at the doctor’s office.

For optimal health, your BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9. If your BMI is 25 or higher, see your doctor to talk about a healthy weight management strategy.

Aside from your overall weight, where your fat is distributed on your body is important. Excess belly fat is linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes.

Exercise tips: Small changes for big results

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. That means a healthy diet alone won’t cut it over the long term. To lose weight and keep it off, you also need to exercise regularly. Exercise increases your metabolism, which helps you burn calories throughout the day.

Talk with your doctor before starting a workout plan to protect your joints and tendons from injury. Many people find success by starting a walking program. Walking is a great way to jumpstart weight loss; encourage friends and family to get active with you, too.

Simple fixes can help you move more throughout the day.

  • Stand up: If you sit all day at work, you’re hurting your circulation and your overall health. Switch to a standing desk, or suggest walking meetings with your co-workers to mix in some active minutes during the day.
  • Download a fitness app: There are many free apps out there. Tracking your workouts is a great way to show your doctor your activity level and how far you’ve come.
  • Join an exercise challenge: Start a friendly wager at work, the gym, with your family, or with an online community. When you have competition, you also have built-in accountability. And adding a bit of rivalry can be good motivation, especially if there’s a nice prize at stake!
  • Register for an event: Sign up for a local 5K walk/run with friends or family. It will give you a goal to train for, and the events are often held to raise money for a good cause.
  • Combine your hobbies: Do you love to watch TV or movies? Step or jog in place while you watch your favorite program.

Losing weight can be difficult, and it becomes more challenging the older awe get. But managing your weight is possible. Daily exercise and eating a healthy diet can help you achieve your weight loss goals and reduce your risk for serious health problems, including cancer.