What are the benefits of exercise?

  • Being active isn’t just good for your heart, there are lots of benefits
  • It 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, it can help prevent breast and bowel cancer

The more active you are, the greater the benefits could be. You might notice some positives straight away, as being more active can help:

  • Prevent bowel and breast cancer
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Improve mood
  • Boost energy
  • Improve mobility and strength
  • Reduce risk of dementia and osteoarthritis, and falls in older adults
  • Offer ways to socialize and develop new skills

How does exercise and being active help prevent breast cancer?

Being active can affect the levels of some hormones in our body. Hormones are chemical messages that are carried around our body to tell different parts what to do. Oestrogen and insulin are both hormones.

Cancer starts when cells divide too much and multiple out of control. Oestrogen could encourage cells in the breast to divide more often. If you’re doing a lot of activity it can reduce the levels of oestrogen, helping to prevent breast cancer.

Insulin could also affect how cells multiply. Being very active can reduce levels of insulin and help prevent cancer.

How does exercise and being active help prevent bowel cancer?

The bowel helps us use the food we eat. It also processes waste which passes out of our bodies as poo.

Being active helps move food through our bodies. This reduces the amount of time any harmful chemicals in food waste are in contact with our bowel, helping to prevent cancer.

Being active also helps control levels of inflammation in the bowel. Inflammation is a normal way our bodies respond to damage. But if there is too much, it can cause our cells to multiple more often increasing the risk of cancer. So being active can help prevent bowel cancer by reducing the levels of inflammation.

How does physical activity benefit cancer patients?

Being active can be helpful for many people with cancer during and following treatment. If you have cancer and want to be more active, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.  

Learn more about physical activity for people with cancer

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.i3857

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.

Fong, DYT., Ho, JWC., Hui B. Physical activity for cancer survivors : meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br Med J. 2011;344:1-14.

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