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Policies and Practices for Cancer Prevention and Survivorship: Physical Activity

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Physical activity reduces the risk of several cancers, including breast and colon cancers, and also helps prevent overweight or obesity, which may reduce a person’s risk of certain cancers related to excess body weight.

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Strong evidence suggests that physical activity reduces the risk of several cancers, including breast and colon cancers.1,2 Worldwide, around 10% of breast and colon cancer cases are linked to a lack of activity.3 Being physically active also helps prevent overweight or obesity, which may reduce a person’s risk of certain cancers related to excess body weight. This resource provides information on physical activity in children, adults, and cancer survivors, and strategies for increasing physical activity in your community.

Breast Cancer

  • In 2013, there were 230,815 cases of female breast cancer in the United States.4
  • Physical activity is associated with a median 20% reduction in the risk of breast cancer.2
  • Physical activity reduces the risk of both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer.5
  • Physical activity reduces risk in women with and without a family history of breast cancer.6
  • Vigorous physical activity provides the largest reduction in breast cancer risk, but even moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, provides a benefit.5,6

Colon Cancer

  • In 2013, there were 96,923 cases of colon cancer in the United States.4
  • Physical activity is associated with a median 30% reduction in the risk of colon cancer.1,2,7
  • More physical activity and higher intensity physical activity are associated with the largest reductions in risk.1

Cancer Survivorship

In addition to helping prevent cancer, physical activity is also important for cancer survivors. One-third of cancer deaths in the United States are linked to physical activity and dietary factors.8 Cancer survivors who are physically active have a better quality of life and better physical fitness than survivors who are inactive. They may also have a lower risk of developing other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, studies suggest that adults with breast or colon cancer who are physically active are less likely to die prematurely or have a recurrence of their cancer. Physical activity may also play a role in reducing adverse effects of cancer treatment.9

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Physical Activity Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidelines to help children and adults in the United States improve their health through appropriate physical activity.

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Physical Activity Among Adults

In 2014, 49.9% of adults in the United States reported levels of physical activity consistent with meeting the adult aerobic guideline.

Photo of children stretching.

Physical Activity Among Youth

Among youth, only 27.1% of high school students reported levels of physical activity consistent with meeting the youth aerobic guideline in 2015. Male high school students and students in lower grades were more like to meet the guidelines.

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Physical Activity Among Cancer Survivors

In 2009, about one-third (31.5%) of cancer survivors had not participated in any leisure-time physical activity during the past 30 days.

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Barriers to Physical Activity

Despite the benefits of physical activity, barriers that prevent people from getting enough physical activity exist. Understanding these barriers is essential to designing and implementing approaches that promote physical activity.

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Strategies That Work for Increasing Physical Activity

The strategies listed in this section can help communities create social and physical environments that promote physical activity. Most of these strategies are recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force on the basis of systematic reviews of their effectiveness in increasing physical activity.

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What Comprehensive Cancer Control Programs Can Do

Many comprehensive cancer control programs grantees already include information about physical activity in their cancer plans, which included goals and strategies to address physical activity changes for cancer prevention.

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References

A list of references for all scientific data that accompany this page.

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