Research clearly shows that being physically active can reduce a person’s risk for several common types of cancer, but understanding what constitutes “exercise” is often lost in translation, a new report shows.
Jennifer Irvine Vidrine, PhD, and colleagues from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston surveyed 800 women age 18 and older, and found the majority of women in the United States fail to meet the American Cancer Society minimum recommendations of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days per week, despite their belief that they do achieve it.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Women's Health also found that when it came to healthy lifestyle choices, poor women and those with less education had greater discrepancies between what they reported doing in their daily lives to help prevent cancer and actually engaging in such behaviors.
But what does it really mean when the experts tell people to get 30 minutes of physical activity per day? Do I have to break a sweat and feel my heart pound or does gardening or washing the dishes count? What if I only get 20 minutes in, does that matter?
“I don’t think we have done enough as a research community to answer these questions,” says Kate Wolin, an Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at Loyola University in Chicago, who researches the role of physical activity and obesity in cancer prevention and post-diagnosis outcomes.
Wolin acknowledges that researchers have convincing evidence to show that as the amount of exercise goes up, the risk goes down for many forms of cancer, including colon, postmenopausal breast and endometrial cancers. But it’s not all together clear as to whether or not exercise can stave off all cancer types or just some.
Scores of studies also show physical activity is associated with decreased risk of cancer mortality with these common cancer types. Exercise may lower the risk of advanced prostate cancer too.