Are you getting enough? Exercise, that is. Whether you enjoy being physically active or you consider it a chore, you probably know how important it is to get regular exercise. The health benefits of exercise range from feeling and looking good, to strengthening your heart and other muscles, to resisting serious diseases - including cancer (1).
Studies have consistently shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked to a lower risk of colorectal and breast cancer (2) and can reduce your risk of dying of breast, prostate, colorectal and other cancers (3:4). How? One way is through weight maintenance. Exercise helps us to maintain a healthy body weight and (along with diet) can help people lose potentially harmful excess weight. Currently, more than 26% of Canadian adults are classified as obese (5), putting them at increased risk for breast, colorectal and other cancers (2). Physical activity also lowers inflammation and insulin levels, which in turn helps lower the risk of some cancers (3:4;6).
Additionally, the more time you spend exercising, the less time you're sitting or lying still. Studies prove that a sedentary lifestyle is a significant risk factor for heart disease and cancer, among other serious health issues (7).
So, how much is enough?
The American Cancer Society recommends that we aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise at moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week (or a combination of these). If possible, it is better to spread your activity throughout the week (8). But if you're just getting back in the game (or on the track) and this sounds ambitious, start by doing what you can. Any increase in your normal level of activity is beneficial (8).
You can gradually work up to the recommended levels but remember, being "physically active" doesn't mean you need to be an Olympic sprinter or marathon runner! Walking is a great option for many people but there are many others: swimming, riding a bike, dancing, playing a sport... as long as you're moving at a good and steady pace, it counts and will help keep you mobile and healthy.
Still not sure how to get started and stay motivated? Here are some tips:
Begin by choosing something you like to do (you're more likely to stick with something you enjoy) but be open to trying something new and mixing up your activities.
Join the club! Being part of a walking or exercise group may encourage you to attend and participate in activities regularly, particularly if you enjoy the social benefits (9).
Use an activity tracker. Devices - from simple pedometers to high tech wearables - let you monitor your progress. Studies show they can motivate people to exercise longer and/or at higher intensities (10).
Consider finding a peer-led exercise program or peer-support program in your community. Peer-led exercise programs and peer-support programs may improve adherence to physical activity in older adults (11).
Last but not least, be aware of how often and how long you are sedentary during the day (e.g. watching TV, relaxing, working on the computer etc.) and try to change your routines to make sure you get up and move regularly. Becoming more physically active is one way to reduce your risk of cancer, protect yourself against other health threats, and live a more vibrant, enjoyable life.