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World Cancer Day: Can being more active fight cancer?

You can go jogging to shift a few pounds, you can stretch off a muscle injury and strengthen joints. But is it really true that exercise will cut your risk of developing cancer? 

All the current evidence points to a protective effect from exercise – if you’re physically active your risk of a cancer is lower than the less active of us.

It’s worth remembering that being active won’t prevent all cancer – genes, diet and the environment all play their part – and it can’t “vaccinate” you against cancer. But it can dramatically reduce your risk. 

And we also know that people with certain cancers can expect to live longer if they engage in exercise.

Exercise and cancer: what are the odds?

The NHS sums it up as a 50% lower risk of colon cancer and a 20% lower risk of breast cancer among those who get enough physical activity. Given that these are two of the most prevalent cancers around – some of the biggest killers – stair climbing may seem like less of an effort.

Cancer Research UK says that womb cancer may be less likely among women who're active and the National Cancer Institute in the US suggests that being physically active may make you less likely to develop lung cancer. Interestingly, the World Cancer Research Fund estimates that a third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented through simple lifestyle changes, including more exercise. 

Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that even if you've got cancer, physical activity can be really important in improving your quality of life. It has also found that people with cancer may be helped if people around them were more active!

The flip side is telling too. The growing tide of evidence suggests that sitting down most of the time is likely to be associated with increased risk of cancer.

A review of 47 studies of sedentary behaviour in Annals of Internal Medicine – 14 of which looked at cancer – found that cancer was significantly more likely among those who sat for prolonged periods of time. Perhaps surprisingly, this held true no matter how much exercise people did when they weren’t sitting!

Similar research published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that sedentary behaviour was associated with greater risk of colon cancer (although no such link was found with rectal cancer).

Change could be easier than you think

Scientists are still not clear whether the type and intensity of exercise has any greater or particular preventive or curative properties.

Food is unavoidable – every meal is a risk-benefit decision (if you’re a health nut). Exercise, on the other hand, is very avoidable. Summoning the motivation is not always easy. And that’s where simple behaviour change initiatives come in.

Initiatives such as StepJockey and the NHS Couch to 5K programme are designed for people of all ages and abilities to start on the way to getting the ideal 150 minutes a week of activity.

If you’re in a wheelchair, you may think that StepJockey isn’t for you. However, the NHS provides some pointers on ways to keep active when you’re a wheelchair user.

To get started with physical activity, stair climbing is a really easy thing to do. To help you on your way, we an help you rate the stairs you use most often for calorie burn, then simply download our app and get tracking those climbs!

Find out what happened when StepJockey joined forces with the World Cancer Research Fund.

StepJockey can spur you on to get more exercise

If you think colleagues in your business could benefit from StepJockey, why not get in touch?

Get in touch to find out how we can help


Image credit: Jogging during golden hour by user d26b73. Used under CreativeCommons 2.0 attribution licence.