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According to the World Health Organization, the total number of cancer cases rose to 18.1 million and the death toll to 9.6 million in 2018. One in six women and one in five men across the globe develop cancer.  

While the figures are alarming, the American Cancer Society maintains that cancer deaths are preventable via healthy lifestyle choices. One of the most effective cancer-fighting strategies is physical activity.  Multiple studies have linked exercise to a lower risk of cancer.  However, physical activity levels in men and women in the Caribbean region are often less than adequate.

For example, according to the study published by BioMed Central (BMC) and conducted in Barbados, 90.5 %of women and 58.9 % of men had inadequate physical activity. Similarly, in another study of physical activity patterns conducted in Trinidad, the data were obtained on 11,341 adults aged 18-65 years. About 50 percent of them had a sedentary lifestyle.

Scientific research published in the Journal of Nutrition (JN) shows that physical activity can act as primary prevention for cancer.  It reduces obesity and improves immune function. These changes play an important role in reducing cancer risk—weight management is specifically helpful because studies have shown a link between excess weight and higher cancer risk.

Not only does exercise reduces the risk of developing cancer it also helps the cancer survivors. It helps improve overall health and routine functioning. Multiple studies indicate that regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise has the potency to reduce the risk of cancer relapse and death from the disease.

Heeding these studies, many public health organizations have provided physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention regimen. At least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is usually recommended.

Physical Activity and Cancer Risk: Scientific Evidence 

According to a research study, leisure-time physical activity can reduce the risk of 26 types of cancer. The study took into account 1.44 million participants. Here are the types of exercise that can lower the risk of cancer.

Colorectal Cancer 

Evidence shows that physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer. According to a review in PubMed, many studies find that depending on the intensity and frequency of exercise, it can reduce the risk of both colon and rectal cancer.

Existing studies show that intense physical activity required to lower the colon cancer risk is about 3.5 to four hours every week. According to the estimate, 12-14 percent of colon cancer can be associated with a lack of routine exercise.

Another review published in PubMed studied the link between exercise and cancers including that of gastric, rectal, and colon. It found that exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 25 percent.

Breast and Gynecologic Cancers 

Physical activity can reduce the risk of breast and gynecologic cancers. Evidence has it that exercise is a key modifiable lifestyle habit that is linked to a lower breast cancer risk. One review published by BioMed Central (BMC) shows that out of 86 studies, 64 studies have shown a decline in the risk of cancer with higher levels of physical activity.

Many studies show that the risk of breast cancer reduced in pre- and postmenopausal women by physical activity. They found that this inverse relationship is stronger in postmenopausal women.

Another article in PubMed observed the link between recreational physical activity, leisure-time sitting, and postmenopausal breast cancer risk. It found that the most active women had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who remained the least active. Women with walking as their only recreational activity had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer.

Prostate Cancer 

Physical activity is also believed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The evidence for this link is not as strong as that for breast or colon cancer. Nevertheless, around 15 studies have pointed toward a decrease in the risk of prostate cancer in physically active men. The risk reduction ranged from 10 to 30 percent.

However, there is a scope for research on this association. Researchers believe that physical activity influences hormone levels. The hormone levels play a significant role in the development of prostate cancer. Moreover, a few researchers believe that physical activity performed early in life can significantly reduce the development of this cancer.

Endometrial Cancer

Out of 13 studies of endometrial cancer, nine have affirmed that physical activity decreases the risk of this type of cancer. The studies show that the rate of reduction in risk ranges widely, i.e., from 0 to 90 percent. The average reduction remained significant, i.e., 30 to 40 percent. A few studies also found a dose-dependent effect. These studies have indicated that the rate of risk reduction increases with an increased level of activity.

Endometrial and breast cancer are closely related. So, many researchers believe that just as physical activity brings about a significant reduction in breast cancer, it would do the same in the case of endometrial cancer.

Lung Cancer

Exercise or workout reduces the risk of lung cancer. Several studies have found higher physical activity as a factor for reduced risk of this cancer.  A total of 11 studies have been conducted to assess the association between physical activity and risk reduction. The reduction in the cancer risk was determined at 30 to 40 percent. While physical activity plays an important role in risk reduction, the smoking habits of a person also come into account.


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