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Being physically active isn’t just good for your heart – research has shown that it can also reduce the risk of developing breast, bowel and other cancers[1]. Keeping active could help to prevent more than 3,000 cases of cancer every year in the UK, and physical activity such as walking, should be prescribed by health care professionals as a standard part of cancer recovery.  It is increasingly clear that walking even short distances regularly can make the world of difference for those recovering from and managing cancer or other serious health conditions.

Physical activity and exercise may directly reduce the risk of some cancers, including cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium, as well as advanced prostate cancer, and possibly pancreatic cancer. Although evidence for many other cancers is limited, associations may exist[2].

Regular physical activity can also help to reduce overweight and obesity, which are associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast (in post-menopausal women), endometrium, kidney, pancreas, and esophagus. Evidence also suggests that obesity may increase the risk of cancers of the gallbladder, liver, ovary, and cervix, as well as multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and aggressive prostate cancer[3].

Not only exercises could help you to stay healthy, but if you’re living with or after cancer, physical activity can help you make a positive change to your life.  Breast and prostate cancer patients could cut their risk of dying by walking just one mile a day, it has been suggested.  Walking for a mile at a moderate pace of around 3mph, or walking for 20 minutes a day could reduce breast cancer patients risk of dying from the disease by 40% while those with prostate cancer could reduce their risk by 30%, according to new calculations by Walking for Health, run by Macmillan Cancer Support and the Ramblers[4].

There’s no need to join a gym or train for a marathon, unless you want to.  Moderate activity includes anything that gets you a little bit warm and out of breath. Brisk walking, gardening, dancing and even housework are all great ways to be more active.  Making small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the lift or making short journeys on foot, can really help you increase how active you are. And it’s never too late to start making a difference.  Even if you’ve been inactive for years, becoming more active now can improve your health.

[1] Start active, stay active: A report on physical activity from the four home countries’ chief medical officers. Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection, 2011.

[2] Friedenreich, C., et al. State of the epidemiological evidence on physical activity and cancer prevention. Eur J Cancer, 2010. 46(14): p. 2593-604