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An active lifestyle with plenty of exercise is one of the foundations of our health. Exercise substantially improves our wellbeing. We need both fitness training and regular daily exercise.

Regular exercise reduces the risk of cancer. Correspondingly, immobility and sitting can increase the risk of developing cancer. Studies show that adequate exercise, healthy nutrition and weight management can prevent at least one third of the most common cancers.

Regular exercise is the best thing you can do for yourself. Walk up the stairs and give the lift a miss, do housework, cycle, and don’t use a car. Everything, even short bouts of exercise, improves your health.

It is wiser to opt for everyday beneficial exercise than irregular visits to the gym. But from the point of view of cancer prevention, frequent, strenuous fitness training is the most effective way to reduce the risk of cancer.

Still, even physical activity does not protect against health problems if you otherwise lead a sedentary lifestyle.

What cancers can exercise prevent?

Exercise prevents bowel cancer, breast cancer, and uterine cancer.

The more exercise you take, the smaller the cancer risk. Exercise reduces the risk of cancer more effectively the more physically demanding it is.  Exercise should be regular (preferably every day, at least 5 times a week), over a long period (exercising throughout your whole life) and moderate or heavy.

A minimum of seven hours of exercise a week lowers the risk of breast cancer by 25%, compared to taking the least amount of exercise. The risk of colon cancer is about 25 % lower, and according to some studies up to 40% lower, in those who engage in regular physical activity, compared to those who do not exercise.

“The more you exercise, the lower your risk of cancer.”

Adult weight gain, especially around the waist, increases the risk of developing uterine cancer. The cancer risk increases to the greater the more overweight. Strenuous or heavy exercise reduces the risk of uterine cancer, especially in obese women, by up to 40%.

Exercise also helps keep a check on your weight. By keeping your weight normal, you can further reduce the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. In addition, maintaining normal weight may in part reduce the risk of many other cancers, such as kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and oesophageal cancer.

Physical activity prevents cancer through several mechanisms. The anti-cancer effects of exercise are partly due to the fact that exercise helps in weight management.

Weight Management

In addition, exercise has its own independent anti-cancer effect. Our knowledge of these effects and the mechanisms for preventing cancer is still incomplete.

Exercise reduces inflammation in the body, especially in the intestine. This protects against cancer because inflammations contribute to adverse changes in cellular function.

The body’s own defense mechanism, the immune system, becomes stronger with exercise.

Activity reduces the number of certain hormones and growth factors in the body. With exercise, the body’s insulin levels are reduced. Sufficiently low insulin levels prevent the uncontrolled distribution of cells. Exercise also affects female hormone levels.

“Exercise helps with weight management and reduces the amount of fat in the body.”

Lower oestrogen levels protect women from breast cancer and uterine cancer. Strenuous exercise is especially beneficial in preventing breast cancer.

Combined with a healthy diet, exercise helps in weight management and reduces body fat. Exercise also speeds up the metabolism. Regular exercise reduces the risk of cancer by accelerating digestion, leaving less time for harmful carcinogens to be absorbed into the body.

Too much sitting puts you at risk of cancer, because it slows down the metabolism. In terms of cancer risk, sitting is especially detrimental to women.

In addition to cancer prevention, exercise has many other benefits. It can reduce elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.

Regular exercise improves quality of sleep and mood. Exercise has been found to prevent depression and other mental health problems.

Exercise supports weight management along with healthy nutrition. Exercise helps with dieting and reduces harmful internal abdominal fatty tissue. After losing weight, it is easier to keep your weight in check by combining healthy diets and exercise.

Weight management


A physically active and strenuous way of life is no longer a feature of an ordinary existence in today’s increasingly technological world. It requires making active choices. Our current lifestyle easily leads to inertia and a decline in fitness.

On average Finns are spend over 8 hours a day sitting. The increasing numbers of people leading a sedentary existence is a visible sign of more widespread immobility.

Sitting slows the metabolism and thereby impacts on your health. A lot of sitting is detrimental to health, including for people who do a lot of training.

An active lifestyle is the foundation of good health. The amount of exercise recommended for cancer prevention may at first seem big, but it is worth remembering that the goals can already be met by small bursts. There’s no need to think of all exercise in terms of lengthy training sessions.  There is no need to think of all the movement as a lengthy exercise. Even 10 minutes of active exertion a few times a day can be enough.

“The more strenuous exercise is, the better it can prevent cancer.”

Bear in mind these points about exercise and doing sport

  • Adults should take strenuous exercise for at least half an hour, preferably an hour, a day. Reasonably intense exercise is such that you pant but can speak. Children and young people should exercise 1-2 hours daily.
  • Your daily exercise routine can be made up of short stints of at least 10 minutes each.
  • Even the small amount of exercise improves health.
  • It is good to do both fitness training and regular exercise on a daily basis. All exercise counts!
  • The easiest way for you to increase your amount of daily exercise is by exercising every day. Walk or bike to work or for errands, use the stairs, do some brisk housework.
  • Get an exercise buddy. It’s easier to go for a jog when there’s someone you’ve arranged it with beforehand
  • Get an exercise buddy. It is easier to set off for a jog when there is someone you have agreed to do it with in advance.
  • When you drive the kids to their hobbies, use the time spent waiting for them to get some exercise in.
  • Make sure that you leave enough time for exercise. Think about whether you could cut back on time working in the evenings; try to exercise in the mornings before the start of the working day.
  • Reduce and take breaks from sitting during the day at home and at work.

The more strenuous exercise is, the better it can prevent cancer. It can be difficult to evaluate the intensity of exercise. The diagram below hopefully helps you get an idea of the intensity  of different forms of physical activity.

In the terms of cancer prevention, it is worth checking whether you get enough moderately intense and heavy exercise. The intensity of the same form of activity may vary with how vigorously you do it.

Light exercise Moderately intense Vigorous exercise
Slow walking Brisk walking Running (10 km/h) or hiking
Slow cycling Brisk cycling Fast cycling (over 20 km/h) or

Mountain biking

Slow swimming Brisk swimming Sports swimming
Stretching Intense yoga Aerobics
Vacuuming Gardening – such as raking Heavy garden work (e.g. clearing snow)
Golf Ballroom dancing Ball games


However, it is worth remembering that during acute illness, exercise is not recommended. Chronic diseases seldom prevent you from exercising – on the contrary, physical activity helps many diseases.

It is advisable for people with a long-term illness to consult a doctor before taking up a physical activity.

Starting to exercise

It is always good to start getting exercise. If you have had a long break from physical activity or have been very inactive, it is important to start gradually. Everyone finds a way of exercising that suits them. For instance, the best way may be to start with taking short walks and to listen to your body. The pleasure you gain from exercise comes gradually through experiencing it.

Exercise should be started with determination. It is good to make a plan in advance:

  • Decide when you will start and what you will do.
  • Plan which days of the week and times suit you best.
  • Start with moderate exercise. Increase your exercise sessions and their duration gradually. At first, exercise may seem heavy going, but when done regularly it develops quickly.
  • Work out a plan B if you miss the bout of exercise you had planned. Can you do some other form of activity the next day?