Can Physical Activity Prevent Cancer?

February is National Cancer Prevention Month in the U.S., and it’s the perfect time to talk about your lifestyle. Would you describe yourself as healthy and fit? And did you know that keeping physically active is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer? Here, I’ll explain a little more about the relationship between moving your body and staying physically healthy. I’ll also review some other ways to stave off cancer and other serious illnesses. There’s no time like the present to take charge of your health!

What to Know About Cancer and Physical Activity

First off, let’s talk about what “physical activity” really means in this context. Sure, you know that running, cycling, and hitting the gym all count as great exercise, but you don’t have to be a fitness fiend to stay physically active and healthy. You can reap the benefits of physical activity through distance walking, dancing in your living room, or even cleaning your house (ugh!). The kind of movement that helps prevent cancer is anything that gets your heart rate going, and the more of it you do, the better. So get moving today!

Side view of couple running in an urban environment to prevent cancer.
The Kind Of Movement That Helps Prevent Cancer Is Anything That Gets Your Heart Rate Going (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Evidence supports a strong relationship between keeping physically active and a lowered risk of cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends one hundred and fifty to three hundred minutes of moderate aerobic activity or seventy-five to one hundred minutes of intense activity per week (or some combination of the two). That breaks down to between thirty and sixty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, if you’re not into the high-intensity stuff (which is fine!). And remember, some of that can be cleaning your pad or walking to work. The rest can be yoga, swimming, barre, jogging, HIIT—whatever you like and can stick to in the long term. 

Reduce Your Risk With an Active Lifestyle

You may be feeling a little intimidated by the prospect of working that much exercise into your week, particularly in lockdown. After all, in many areas, gyms remain closed, and group fitness classes are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Few things feel easy these days, but thankfully, there are many types of physical activity you can do at home, no sweat. (Well, hopefully you’ll be sweating plenty!)

8 Ways To Reduce Your Cancer Risk – MD Anderson Cancer Center

Walk, Jog, or Run For Fitness and Fun!

Try walking, jogging, or running when the weather allows. Don’t feel that you have to turn into Usain Bolt and run yourself ragged to make it a “real” workout; brisk walking has major health benefits. It’s also a great way to exercise with a friend and is considered a safer activity while social distancing guidelines are in place. 

Give Yoga a Try

Practice gentle yoga at home. In addition to its physical benefits, yoga can help you reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. All you need is a quiet room, a great yoga mat, and comfy attire that will stretch with you.

Woman practicing yoga in a urban background.
In Addition To Its Physical Benefits, Yoga Can Help You Reduce Stress, Anxiety, And Depression (Image Source: Shutterstock)

There’s an App For That

Try one of the many streaming cardio workouts at home, from ballet classes and barre workouts to Pilates, HIIT, and hip-hop dance sessions. Check out apps like OpenFit and Obe, or take advantage of the free content available on YouTube. 

Prioritize Process Over Outcome

Remember that you’re striving for progress, not perfection. If your form isn’t perfect or you have to hang it up before the uber-fit instructor on the screen does, be gentle with yourself. What’s important is that you got a great workout in.

Man and woman in sports wear doing workout at home.
What’s Important Is That You Got A Great Workout (Image Source: Shutterstock)

More Ways to Prevent Cancer

Being physically active is an excellent way to stave off serious illness, but it’s not the only one. If you ask a medical expert how to prevent cancer, chances are good they’ll have multiple recommendations. Here are some other important ways to stay well. 

You Are What You Eat

What you put on your plate can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping cancer at bay. Eating a largely or entirely plant-based, anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet is one of the best ways to maintain excellent health. That means loading up on fresh fruits and veggies (though frozen and canned are good, too), whole grains, nuts and legumes, and lean protein like chicken and fish. Be sure you’re meeting your daily requirement of dietary fiber, which can offer additional protection
Minimize red meat, processed foods, alcoholic beverages, and items with tons of added sugar, like cookies, candy, and soda. That’s not to say that you can never have them again, but that they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a treat once in a while if you’re eating well on a daily basis.

Balanced diet Organic Healthy food Clean eating selection Including Certain Protein Prevents Cancer.
Minimize Red Meat, Processed Foods, Alcoholic Beverages, And Items With Tons Of Added Sugar, Like Cookies, Candy, And Soda (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Achieving a healthy weight isn’t always easy, but when it comes to cancer prevention, it’s worth the effort. The health risks of obesity include a number of cancers, including liver and kidney cancer and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Losing any extra pounds can help you lower your chances of getting cancer, as well as other serious illnesses, like diabetes and heart failure. Committing to eating a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and processed foods, and working out five to seven times a week can help you reach a healthy weight. 

See Your Doctor Regularly

You don’t have to do this alone—in fact, you shouldn’t try. It’s important to see your doctor for a physical every year (or more often, depending on your health needs). Getting a check-up can help you and your care provider monitor any changes in your health that could indicate a problem. Your doctor may also recommend vaccines that can prevent certain kinds of cancer or viral infections that may lead to it.

Doctor listening to patient's chest.
Getting A Check-Up Can Help You And Your Care Provider Monitor Any Changes In Your Health That Could Indicate A Problem (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Live Well Every Day

Cancer is a scary topic, and it’s easy to feel fearful and helpless. While nothing can guarantee cancer prevention, you should know that the healthy decisions you make every day can help to lower your risk. Here’s to a long, happy, and cancer-free life!