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Recommended Amounts of Physical Activity Associated with Reduced Risk of Seven Cancers

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Engaging in the recommended amount and intensity leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is associated with reduced risk of the following cancers: breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, liver, myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to findings published December 26, 2019, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. 

The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults engage in 2.5 to 5 hours per week of moderate intensity activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of vigorous intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of both.  While the association between physical activity and reduced cancer risk is established for several cancers, it has been unclear whether currently recommended amounts of LTPA are associated with significantly lower cancer risk. DCEG investigators led by Charles Matthews, Ph.D., senior investigator in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch, and collaborators pooled and analyzed data from 750,000 adults in nine prospective cohorts with self-reported LTPA and follow-up for cancer incidence to determine the dose-response relationship between physical activity and cancer. 

They observed that the recommended amounts of LTPA are in fact associated with significantly reduced risk for breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, liver, myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The team also explored the shape of the dose-response curves and variation in the strength of association for different cancers.  For recommended levels of physical activity, they observed a three-fold difference in the risk reduction for breast cancer (6-10%), compared to liver cancer (18-27%), which may reflect important distinctions in the underlying biology of each cancer type.

These results suggest that health care providers, fitness professionals, and public health practitioners should encourage adults to adopt and maintain physical activity at the recommended levels to lower risk of cancer.


Matthews CE et al. Amount and Intensity of Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Lower Cancer Risk J Clin Oncol. 2019 Dec 26. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.19.02407 [Epub ahead of print]

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