Adults should aim for 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise a week to reap additional health benefits

By Jason Duaine Hahn
December 27, 2019 03:03 PM
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If you’re looking for another reason to jumpstart your New Year’s resolution to exercise more, here it is: Working out may decrease your cancer risk.

In a paper published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers found that exercise is linked to a lower risk of developing seven types of cancer. These include colon, breast, kidney, myeloma, and liver cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and endometrial cancer.

The study was conducted by the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers combed through data from nine different surveys of more than 750,000 adults from the United States, Australia and Europe. Volunteers in these studies were asked about their leisure-time physical activity, and the team checked in with participants over the next 10 years to see if they had been diagnosed with one of 15 types of cancer they had listed.

They found that participants who received between 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise a week, or up to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity, had a lower risk of developing seven of those 15 types of cancer.

Men were found to have up to a 14 percent reduced risk of colon cancer, and women had a 10 percent lower risk for breast cancer. Women also had up to an 18 percent lower risk of both endometrial cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, NBC News reported.

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“These findings provide direct quantitative support for the levels of activity recommended for cancer prevention and provide actionable evidence for ongoing and future cancer prevention efforts,” the researchers said in their report.

But they admit there are other variables that may be contributing to a decreased risk of cancer for those who meet exercise guidelines. For example, people who exercise often may have other lifestyle habits that can contribute to the lower risk of cancer development. Because the surveys only asked about participants’ leisure-time exercise, it did not take into account any activity they would have been getting outside of their free time, such as walking or biking to work.

As Newsweek notes, the researchers also said the paper was limited in scope because most participants were white, and the nine studies relied on the volunteers being truthful about the amount of time they exercised.

Still, exercise has already been connected to a lower risk of disease in the past, and this latest study further cements the link.

“[These exercise] guidelines have largely been based on their impact on chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” Alpa Patel, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, said in a statement to NBC News.

“These data provide strong support that these recommended levels are important to cancer prevention, as well,” she added.