Ask the Cancer Genetics Team: Reducing Cancer Risk Through Exercise

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Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention

Dana-Farber's Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention offers advanced genetic tests to determine whether individuals are at risk for inherited forms of cancer.


How Exercise Helps

Will exercise help to decrease my cancer risk?

Studies have shown that individuals who are more physically active and maintain a healthy weight may be less likely to develop certain forms of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, regular exercise can improve your overall health in many ways, including:

  • Increasing strength in bones, muscles, and joints
  • Improving "good cholesterol"
  • Strengthening immunity
  • Reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Promoting overall physical and mental well-being

You may also find that you sleep better at night and are more focused and relaxed during the day, once you begin a regular exercise program.

Types of Exercise

What type of exercise should I do and how long should I exercise?

Almost any form of physical activity is good for you. You might want to consider an activity that you’ve always been interested in, such as a dance or yoga class, or a walking or running club. Walking is a safe and effective way to begin an exercise program and doesn’t require any special equipment, except a good pair of walking shoes.

While exercising for as little as 20 minutes a day is good for you, the American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activities per week, such as moderate/brisk walking, bicycling, swimming or low-impact dancing; or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week, such as jogging, roller-skating or tennis.

Try to limit sedentary behavior, such as sitting, lying down, or watching too much television. If you sit at a desk for a large part of the workday, be sure to take mini-breaks: walk to your co-worker’s desk rather than emailing to schedule a meeting, take the stairs rather than the elevator, or take a quick walk at lunch, all of which are rejuvenating to the body and mind.

Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.