What you may have heard
Low physical activity increases risk of developing cancer.
What science tells us
There is strong evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lower risk of several types of cancer. Much of this evidence is published in “meta-analyses,” or statistical comparisons between multiple studies that address similar questions:
- Bladder: In a 2014 meta-analysis of 15 studies, the risk of bladder cancer is 15% lower for people with high levels of physical activity than people with the lowest levels of physical activity (NCI).
- Breast: In a 2016 meta-analysis of 38 studies, the most physically active women had 12-21% lower risk of breast cancer than those who were the least physically active (NCI).
- Colon: In a 2016 meta-analysis of 126 studies, the most physically active people had 12-21% lower risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active (NCI).
- Endometrial: One meta-analysis of 33 studies in particular observed that physically active women had a 20% lower risk of endometrial cancer than women with low levels of physical activity (NCI).
- Esophageal: A 2014 meta-analysis of 24 studies found that physically active people had a 20% lower risk of esophageal cancer than people with low levels of physical activity (NCI).
- Kidney: In a 2013 meta-analysis of 19 studies, people who were more physically active had a 12% lower risk of renal cancer than those who were the least active (NCI).
- Stomach: A 2016 meta-analysis of 22 studies reported that people who were the most physically active had a 19% lower risk of stomach cancer than those who were the least active (NCI).
- There is limited evidence that physical activity reduces risk of lung, blood, pancreas, prostate, ovarian, thyroid, liver, and rectal cancer (NCI).
In addition to physical activity, sedentary behavior (sitting, reclining, or lying down for long periods of time) is a risk factor for many other chronic conditions and premature death (NCI).
Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence
Findings from animal studies generally support the findings from epidemiology. Among rodents, exercise led to a decrease in tumor size (Eschke et al.).
IARC Carcinogen Classification: Not classified
How to reduce your risk
Physical activity recommendations to decrease your risk of weight gain, obesity, and several types of cancers include: 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity weekly, 75-100 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity weekly, and muscle-strengthening training at least two days a week (CDC).
Low physical activity increases the risk of developing bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, and stomach cancers. Decrease your risk of cancer by doing at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Learn More From These Trusted Sources
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Physical activity and cancer
MD Anderson: Physical activity
World Cancer Research Fund: Physical activity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Physical activity
June 24, 2021
Verified/updated: January 26, 2022