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How is physical activity linked to cancer?

Being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight (an independent risk factor for cancer), however it also helps to manage insulin levels which can impact blood sugar levels and cancer risk. Exercise also speeds up food passing through the bowel, helping to expel toxins within the stool faster.

Cancer Council recommendations:

To reduce your risk of some cancers, aim for at least one hour of moderate intensity physical activity or 30 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity on five or more days per week.

Moderate activities include brisk walking, medium-paced swimming or cycling.

Vigorous activities include active sports like football, squash, netball and basketball as well as activities such as aerobics, circuit training, jogging and fast cycling.

If you want to increase your physical activity levels, you may find that planning and scheduling ‘active time’ into your diary may help you get into the routine, particularly in the beginning when it is more difficult. Ideas for an active lifestyle:

  • Walking is great exercise. You do not have to join a gym to be more active. Walk instead of drive to the shops and walk in your lunch breaks.
  • Walk with a friend or join a walking group.
  • Do something you enjoy or can do with a friend, like tennis, swimming or dancing.
  • Do some simple stretching exercises while watching television.
  • Take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
  • If you have a sedentary job, take regular activity breaks and move as much as possible throughout the day.
  • Get off the bus/train one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk or cycle to work.
  • Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Do vigorous housework like vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
  • Get out and work in the garden.
  • Take the children or the grandchildren to the park, and join in their games.

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This webpage was last reviewed and updated in January 2021.