How can I be more active?

  • You might be surprised at the things you can do each day that count as being active, such as brisk walking and housework
  • Making small changes to your daily routine can help you be more active
  • Even if you’ve been inactive for years, it’s not too late. Being more active can still improve your health

Being active can help you lose weight or keep a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of 13 different types of cancer. And if you’re doing a lot, being active can also help directly prevent two of the most common types of cancer – breast and bowel.

How do I start being active and how do I keep motivated?

  • Make small swaps that build activity into your normal routine. Pick times in your week where you can add more activity such as walking or cycling all or part of the way to work or the shops. It’s more likely to become a habit if you’re doing it in the same place at the same time.  
  • Set a goal and track your progress. There’s evidence that monitoring how you’re getting on can help you keep up a change in the long term.
  • Buddy up with friends or family. Discover new ways to spend time with friends and family, and you can keep each other motivated.
  • Remind yourself why you wanted to be more active. You could write this down or set a weekly reflection reminder on your phone. Find out about the benefits of keeping active here.

What types of activity can I do?

It’s recommended that adults do at least 2 and a half hours – or 150 minutes - of moderate activity each week to get the general health benefits.  

Moderate activity is anything that gets you a bit warmer, slightly out of breath, and your heart beating faster.

You don’t have to join a gym– here are some ideas of what counts:

  • Brisk walking
  • Family games
  • Household chores, heavy gardening, or carrying heavy groceries
  • Swimming and water aerobics
  • Some types of yoga, pilates, and aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Cycling
  • Sports, such as football, running, and tennis

Even 10 minutes at a time can add up throughout the week, and you can build this up over time.

Should I try to sit down less?

It’s not clear whether the time you spend sitting can increase the risk of cancer. Most studies looking at this haven’t fully considered the effect of things such as weight or physical activity.

But if you do spend long periods of time sitting at home or at work, it’s a good idea to take breaks. Try making a cup of tea, doing bits of housework, or taking a short walk.

What if I find it hard to keep active?

Some people find it harder than others to keep active, for example, because of an existing health condition. There are some things you can do to make it easier.

  • Talk to your doctor.  You can discuss your options, and if there’s anything you should avoid.
  • Build up what you do over time. You might try starting with lower impact activities like swimming, water aerobics, yoga, and tai chi. Split activity up throughout the day or week if you find it hard to do a lot in one go.  
  • Try out different options. Find an activity that suits you. If you want to join a class, speak to the instructor beforehand about any support you might need.
  • Find out about inclusive gyms. More than 400 are accredited by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative.

 

IARC. Weight Control and Physical Activity. IARC Handbook of Cancer Prevention. Vol. 6. (Vainio, H., Bianchini F, ed.). Lyon: IARC; 2002.

World Cancer Research Fund AI for CR. Physical Activity and the Risk of Cancer. World Cancer Research Fund International; 2018. https://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Physical-activity.pdf

NHS UK. Benefits of exercise. https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx.

Kyu HH, Bachman VF, Alexander LT, et al. Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Bmj. 2016:i3857. doi:10.1136/bmj.i385

Fournier, A., Dos Santos, G., Guillas, G.  et al. Recent Recreational Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women in the E3N Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol biomarkers Prev  a Publ Am Assoc Cancer Res cosponsored by Am Soc Prev Oncol. 2014;23(9):1893-1902.

Ma, P., Yao, Y., Sun, W., Dai, S., Zhou C. Daily sedentary time and its association with risk for colorectal cancer in adults: A dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Med. 2017;96(22):e7049.

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For more information on healthier choices, go to the One You website from Public Health England.