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How exercise helps prevent and heal cancer

Here’s how exercise can help reduce your risk of cancer and increase survival and longevity for cancer survivors.

Physical activity helps your mind and body in more ways than one. From keeping your muscles and organs strong to curbing obesity and stress, staying active is key to your overall health and happiness.

But did you know physical activity can help you prevent cancer, too? 

Not getting enough exercise can lead to weight gain and obesity — and the health effects of obesity are linked to over 13 different types of cancer.

But beyond obesity, physical activity can help reduce your risk of cancer by improving your immune system, reducing inflammation, and lowering levels of certain hormones that are linked to cancer growth.

Not only that but exercise has shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and increase the longevity of cancer survivors.

In 2017 alone, there will be an estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases diagnosed in America. Physical activity could play a big role in separating you from these numbers. 

Here’s how exercise can help reduce your risk of cancer and increase survival and longevity for cancer survivors. 

How does exercise reduce your risk of cancer?

Those TV binges on the couch and long work days sitting at your couch can do more than add inches to your waistline — they could increase your risk of serious health conditions, including cancer. 

Being too sedentary can increase your chances of developing different chronic conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and even premature death.

Exercise helps your body stay fit and healthy in many ways. According to, here are the ways that physical activity may help reduce your risk of cancer:

  • Lowers the levels of hormones that have been linked to cancer development (like insulin and estrogen).
  • Helps to prevent obesity and the associated links to cancer — particularly the development of insulin resistance.
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Improves immune system function.
  • Improves your body’s metabolism of bile acids, which may act as carcinogens in your gastrointestinal tract.
  • Reduces the amount of time it takes for your food to be digested, which decreases your gastrointestinal tract’s exposure to possible carcinogens. 

What types of cancer are reduced by physical activity?

Physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of more than one type of cancer. In a recent study of over 1 million people, leisurely physical activity was linked to a reduced risk of liver cancer, a type of stomach cancer, kidney cancer, and cancers in the head, neck, rectum, and bladder.

Below are 3 common types of cancer that can be curbed through exercise:

Colon cancer

In 2009, an analysis of over 50 studies on colon cancer and exercise showed that people who were the most physically active had a 24% lower risk of colon cancer than those who weren’t active.

Breast cancer

Many studies show that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than those who don’t exercise. On average, women who exercised saw a 12% decrease in risk of breast cancer. 

Physical activity has shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women, but the link is stronger for postmenopausal women with breast cancer.

Endometrial cancer

Endometrial cancer is cancer that affects the lining of the uterus. Results of 33 studies showed a 20% decrease in risk of endometrial cancer in women who exercised versus those who didn’t.

The connection between physical activity and a decrease in endometrial cancer risk may be connected to the effect of physical activity on obesity, which is a risk factor for endometrial cancer. 

How much physical activity reduces cancer risk?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you should aim for around 2.5 hours a week of moderately intense aerobic exercise, like a brisk walk or playing tennis.

You should also get in an hour and 15 minutes a week of high-intensity cardio exercise, like jogging or swimming laps. In terms of muscle strengthening, it’s recommended that you lift weights or use a resistance band that involves all major muscle groups 2 or more days a week.

Of course, the more exercise you get, the greater the health benefits (and the lower your risk of cancer.)

How physical activity helps cancer survivors

Physical activity not only helps decrease the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, but studies show that exercise can improve the quality of life for cancer survivors, too.

Exercise can help cancer survivors stave off weight gain, which is particularly helpful since obesity is a risk factor for several types of cancers. 

Physical activity can also help cancer survivors with improved body image and self-esteem, pain management and fatigue, decreased depression and anxiety, and better sleep.

Maybe most importantly, exercise can help decrease cancer recurrence and progression, and improve cancer survivor’s chances of survival.

Cancer can be a dangerous (and expensive) chronic condition. Critical Illness insurance can help you or your loved ones manage the health expenses associated with cancer management and treatment.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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