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Physical Activity Lowers Cancer Risk – More People Should Probably Know That

A new study has found that a large majority of the public may be unaware that lack of physical activity can increase the risk of cancer.

The study, out of Washington University in St. Louis and published Wednesday in the Journal of Health Communication, included a diverse sample of participants who were asked to list three diseases caused by physical inactivity. Just three percent of 351 respondents listed cancer, while over 60 percent listed diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.

These findings add to those of other studies and surveys that have shown that: while many people know that a healthy lifestyle overall can help prevent cancer, many are often unsure about the exact types of behaviors that can lower cancer risk.

A 2017 American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) survey, for example, found that the vast majority of respondents knew that smoking and sun exposure increased cancer risk, yet well under half identified physical inactivity as a risk factor.

There is a large amount evidence, however, showing the benefit of regular physical activity in relation to cancer.  It can lower the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, and endometrial cancer. It can help with weight control – a key cancer risk factor. And in cancer survivors, it can improve mood, boost energy level, and possibly lower the chance of recurrence.

Physical activity has been an integral part of the Siteman Cancer Center’s Your Disease Risk tool since its launch in 2000, and regular physical activity is recommended throughout Siteman’s 8IGHT WAYS cancer series (see below).

Erika Waters, lead author of the Washington University study and Associate Professor of Surgery at the School of Medicine, commented: “People might be more likely to exercise if they understand just how important physical activity is to their overall health – not just their heart health.”

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