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The Role of Exercise in Cancer Prevention: How Much is Enough?

Cancer is a leading cause of death globally, and its incidence continues to increase every year. However, research has shown that regular exercise significantly reduces the risk of developing different types of cancer. Exercise helps maintain a healthy body weight, boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation in the body, and prevents the production of cancer-causing hormones.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends adults indulge in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. That translates to around 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous activity three days a week. Exercise can be anything from brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and other physical activities that increase your heart rate and make you break a sweat.

It’s essential to add strength training to your exercise regimen. Lifting weights or incorporating resistance bands helps build muscle mass and improves bone health. Muscle-building activities should be performed at least two days a week, focusing on every major muscle group.

The ACS also emphasizes limiting sedentary lifestyle behaviors, such as watching TV and sitting at a desk for extended hours, to prevent cancer development. It’s a good idea to take frequent breaks while sitting or set up an ergonomic workstation that allows you to stand intermittently throughout the day.

Beyond the specifics, it’s important to find an exercise routine you enjoy. Not everyone is thrilled about going to the gym and lifting weights; some people prefer taking walks or practicing yoga. The most essential thing is to find an activity you enjoy that keeps you motivated.

Some Cancer-Specific Considerations

While exercise is beneficial in preventing various types of cancer, some cancers require special considerations when it comes to physical activity. For example, individuals with lymphedema – swelling in the arm or leg due to the removal of lymph nodes – should avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. People undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments may experience fatigue and may need to start with low-intensity activities.

The Bottom Line

Regular exercise is one of the simplest and most effective measures to prevent cancer development. The benefits of physical activity extend beyond cancer prevention, improving overall health, mood, and wellbeing. You don’t have to be an athlete or gym enthusiast to reap the rewards of exercise. Find something you enjoy and get moving.


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