Exercise to prevent cancer

by Karen Basen-Engquist, PhD

The next time you’re on your couch contemplating whether to watch your favorite sitcom or get up and exercise, remind yourself that being active for at least 30 minutes every day can help reduce your chances of getting certain types of cancer.

Physical activity fights cancer because it reduces body fat, and lowers hormone levels that raise breast and endometrial cancer risks. It also keeps the digestive system working well to reduce colon cancer risks.

You don’t need to go to a gym or do sprints to get your minutes in. Doing everyday activities can count as exercise, but only if they are done at a moderate intensity.

In other words, your activity should raise your heart rate and increase your breathing. You want to be able to talk while moving, but not sing.

Cardio isn’t the only thing that counts

Alternate everyday activities that increase your heart rate with cardio and strength training (like weight lifting).

Lifting weights is exercise if you are huffing and puffing. It’s a great compliment to your cardio workout! If you don’t have weights, try lifting water jugs or canned goods instead.

Be sure to work the core muscle groups throughout your body each week.

Strength training can prevent muscle loss, build bone density and increase the rate that your body burns calories to keep you at a healthy weight to lower your chances of cancer.

Always take the time to stretch the muscles you are exercising. Stretching your legs, arms and back will help with soreness. It also will help prevent muscle tears and injuries.

Set yourself up for success

Set goals that are measurable and achievable. Reward yourself when you meet your goal, like go to a movie, buy yourself a non-fat latte or even take a short vacation.

Another key part of achieving success is starting slow. If you haven’t worked out in a while or are new to exercise, gradually work up to exercising for 30 minutes. You can even break-up your 30 minutes into three 10-minute workouts if you like. Studies suggest this approach may be as good as 30 continuous minutes of moderate intensity exercise.

Remember, it’s normal to be sore at first, but the soreness shouldn’t last more than a day or so.

After you’ve made it to 30 minutes, increase your exercise time to 60 minutes a day or rev up the intensity of your 30-minute workout.

Exercise is most effective if done properly, so check out the proper techniques.

Make room in your life for physical activity. Ready, set, go!

Karen Basen-Engquist is a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

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