Canadian Cancer Society logo
You are here: 

Physical activity

Many Canadians are physically inactive. Studies show that the majority of waking hours of both adults and young people are sedentary. They are not active enough to get the maximum health benefits from physical activity.

Benefits of physical activity

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Being active:

  • helps healthy growth and development
  • makes us stronger
  • gives us energy
  • keeps us independent as we get older

There is evidence that higher levels of physical activity are associated with health benefits. In fact, the more activity, the greater the health benefit.

Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of:

  • chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • some types of cancer
  • osteoporosis (loss of bone density)
  • depression, stress and anxiety

Back to top

Physical activity and cancer

Research shows that regular physical exercise over your lifetime is linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer. Exercise may also help protect against some other types of cancer. There is some evidence that it reduces the risk of breast, lung and uterine (endometrial) cancer.

  • Regular and sustained physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer. Exercise helps a person have regular bowel movements, which decreases the time stool spends in the colon and may reduce cancer risk. Physical activity can decrease inflammation, improve immune function and helps regulate insulin levels, which may influence colon cancer risk.
  • Women who lead active lifestyles may reduce their risk of breast cancer, even if they only start exercising regularly after menopause. Most studies show a lower risk of post-menopausal breast cancer with higher levels of physical activity. The evidence that physical activity protects against premenopausal breast cancer is not as clear.
  • There is evidence that physical activity probably protects against uterine cancer.
  • It would be expected that physical activity, which promotes a healthy weight, protects against cancers whose risk is higher for people who are overweight or obese.

Physical activity is also one of the best ways to get to and maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for cancer of the breast, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney, pancreas and uterus.

Back to top

Reducing your risk

Regular physical activity is important for Canadians of all ages. Research shows that about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by eating well, being active and staying at a healthy body weight.

Physical activity does not have to take place in a gym, an exercise class or at a recreation facility. Find fun and easy ways to be active each day.

  • Check with your doctor if you haven’t been active for a long time or if you have a medical condition that might get in the way of being active. Your doctor may be able to suggest activities that suit your age, fitness level and general health – and if there are any activities you should avoid.
  • Follow physical activity guidelines for your age group. The Public Health Agency of Canada has tips to help all age groups get active and make wise choices about physical activity – choices that will improve health, help prevent disease and help you get the most out of life. For more information and tips to help build physical activity into a healthy lifestyle, go to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
  • Don’t worry about starting small – every little bit helps. Gradually increase your activity level over time.
  • Avoid the elevator and take the stairs wherever you are. Every step counts. Set a target of 10,000 steps a day. Wear a pedometer to help you keep track. For maximum health benefits, 2,000 to 4,000 steps need to be at a brisk pace.
  • Start up a lunchtime activity club at work or school. You may be surprised at the response. Sometimes people are just waiting for someone else to organize something.
  • Walk, roller-blade, scooter or cycle to work or school instead of driving. If you can’t do it all the way, try being active for part of the journey.
  • Stretch throughout the day. This can relieve tension when you have to sit for long periods of time.
  • Walk to a co-worker’s office to discuss an issue if you can, instead of phoning or sending an e-mail.
  • Swap 30 minutes of screen time for a 30-minute walk each day.
  • Make play time with your kids physical for everyone. Don’t watch them play – play tag, soccer or ball hockey with them.
  • Turn physical activity into a social event. Go to the park with a group of friends and a Frisbee. Invite the neighbours and their kids over to play ball hockey or basketball.
  • Set a goal and make a plan – pick a time, pick a place and get active. Book a date with a friend to keep on track. Challenging yourself and your activity partner will help you both meet your goals.

Back to top

Stories

Dr Shana Kelley An ultrasensitive blood test for cancer

Read more

Clinical trial discovery improves quality of life

Illustration of test tubes

A clinical trial led by the Society’s NCIC Clinical Trials group found that men with prostate cancer who are treated with intermittent courses of hormone therapy live as long as those receiving continuous therapy.

Learn more