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Cancer Risk and Prevention

Fitting in Fitness

Did you know you benefit from even small amounts of moderate activity throughout the day? Regular physical activity is easier to fit in than you realize and can lower your lifetime risk for cancer – and heart disease and diabetes, too.

The American Cancer Society (ACS)’s physical activity for cancer prevention recommendations for adults and children are based on the latest scientific information to help reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Adults: Get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these). Getting even more activity is ideal.

Children and teens: Get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day.

  • Moderate activity is anything that makes you breath as hard as you do during a brisk walk. During moderate activities, you'll notice a slight increase in heart rate and breathing, but you may not break a sweat.
  • Vigorous activities are performed at a higher intensity and generally use large muscle groups. They cause a noticeable increase in heart rate, faster breathing, and sweating.

Being more physically active than usual, no matter what your level of activity, can have many health benefits. It’s also important to limit the time you spend sitting or lying down, such as time spent on your phone or computer, or watching TV.

No matter what kind of activity you choose, the important thing is to get moving. Try to look for opportunities to be active throughout your day.

Choose your game

Remember, safety first. If you haven't been very active, check with your doctor first to make sure you're up to it. It’s important to enjoy what you’re doing so you won’t get bored or think of physical activity as a chore. To help you choose the activity that’s right for you, ask yourself these questions:

Do you like to be with other people, or would you prefer time to yourself?

  • Social butterflies should try activities that connect them with other people. Try walking with friends, joining a team or recreation association, or going line-dancing.
  • If you need time to yourself, walking, running, swimming, or gardening can give you time to reflect.

Do you need to get energized or wind down?

  • For an energy boost, try aerobic activities that will get your heart pumping.
  • Reduce stress with activities like yoga or tai chi.

Are you goal-oriented, or do you like to stay flexible?

  • If you like to feel a sense of accomplishment, choose activities where you can chart and monitor your progress like training for a run, or take up an activity with rising skill levels, like martial arts.
  • For a more flexible routine, try walking or find an exercise video you can do at home.

Do you want to get away from it all or get involved?

  • If you want to get away, choose outdoor activities like hiking, biking, or rollerblading.
  • To get involved in the community, consider building homes for the disadvantaged, taking part in charity walks and runs, helping an elderly neighbor with yard work, or tidying up a local school.

Simple steps add up

Being more physically active than usual, no matter what your level of activity, can have many health benefits. No matter what kind of activity you choose, the important thing is to get moving. Try to look for opportunities to be more active throughout your day. You can do as little as a few minutes at a time. Just do them several times a day. Here are some suggestions:

If you’re working or taking online classes from home

  • Stand up or walk around while you read and answer emails and other messages on your laptop or phone.
  • During conference calls, stand up and pace, or stay seated and do leg lifts, knee lifts, and toe curls. Keep a weight under your desk for bicep curls. Do standing push-ups against a wall.
  • Take a short walk during lunch, or in place of a coffee break.
  • Set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to take an activity break. For example, take a one- or two-minute standing or walking break every hour.

Other ideas to get moving

  • Take a walk outside if it’s a nice day or walk inside around the house if it isn’t. Walk fast enough to speed up your heart rate and break a sweat.
  • Walk up and down your stairs. Take every other step to give your legs a good workout.
  • Turn on the radio and dance in the house, alone or with your partner.
  • If you don’t have stairs or much open space, you can do jumping jacks, or walk or jog in place. Try to keep moving for at least 10 minutes.
  • Use hand weights or grab an object like a soup can if you’re just starting to exercise, or a jug of water if you’re stronger. Bend at your elbows to curl your hand to shoulder level. Repeat 10 to 12 times, or until you can’t do it anymore.
  • Do squats when cleaning out closets or playing with your children. Be sure to bend with your knees and keep your back straight.
  • If you’re on social media or can search the internet, check for live-streaming exercise sessions or activity challenges that you can participate in.
  • Use a fitness tracker to try to increase your daily steps.

Make TV time active time

  • Stand up and fold laundry while you watch.
  • Do a few simple exercises like jumping jacks or walking in place, or by doing stretches in front of the screen.
  • Make a new rule: No sitting during commercials.
  • Use an exercise bike or treadmill, or do arm curls, squats, lunges, and crunches while watching .

Make household chores count

  • Mop or vacuum fast enough to get your heart pumping. A 150–pound person can burn about 150 calories an hour this way.
  • Have young children or pets at home? Playing with them can burn more than 200 calories per hour.
  • Yard work and gardening are also ways to burn calories and strengthen your arm, leg, and back muscles. Pushing a lawn mower, raking leaves, shoveling, and other outdoor chores can be an effective workout.
  • Use stay-at-home time for projects you may have been putting off.  Cleaning out the garage or attic is another way to be productive and active at the same time.

Safety first!

By following a few practical guidelines, you can ensure that your physical activity is fun and safe.

  • Most children and young adults can safely do moderate and/or vigorous activities without checking with their doctors. But people who are older or who have chronic illnesses or risk factors for heart disease should check with their doctors before starting a vigorous activity program.
  • If you are just starting to be active regularly, start slowly and increase duration, intensity, and frequency over time.
  • Warm up and stretch to reduce chance of injury.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Don’t overdo it. There is no gain from pain.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: October 18, 2021

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