Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Be moderately physically active, equivalent to brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes every day.
- As fitness improves, aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate, or for 30 minutes or more of vigorous, physical activity every day.
- Limit sedentary habits such as watching television.
Physical activity improves the health of everyone, no matter what age. The benefits of being physically active range from disease prevention to improved mental health and much more. People who do not achieve recommended levels of physical activity have a 20-30% higher risk of death compared to those who are active. Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. It has been proven to reduce the risk of many diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It helps to burn off energy/ calories from food, and therefore is essential for preventing overweight or obesity. The more exercise we do the greater the health benefits.
HOW DOES PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AFFECT CANCER RISK?
Physical activity helps to reduce cancer risk in a number of ways. Moderate to vigorous activity has been shown to directly reduce the risk of breast, bowel and womb cancer. In addition, regular physical activity can prevent weight gain, overweight and obesity and therefore helps to prevent the development of obesity-related cancers.
Physical activity also helps to reduce inflammation (inflammation promotes cancer growth), and improves immune function. It also helps with the production of healthy levels of hormones in the body. In some cancer sites, physical activity has a direct impact. For example, physical activity aids the bowel by encouraging regular bowel movements. This reduces the amount of time waste takes to pass through the gut, reducing the bowel’s exposure to toxins, which in turn reduces the risk of bowel cancer.
ARE CERTAIN FORMS OF EXERCISE BETTER THAN OTHERS?
The evidence linking physical activity to cancer risk is based on moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. Moderate activity includes any exercise that makes your heart beat faster and increases your breathing but you can still maintain a conversation. You will be warm and produce a light sweat e.g. brisk walk (1 mile in 15-20 minutes), jogging (a mile in >10 minutes), cycling (< 10 miles per hour), medium paced swimming, ballroom dancing, general gardening. Vigorous exercise causes heavy breathing, with a faster heart rate and more sweating. It would be a struggle to keep a conversation going while exercising vigorously. Examples of vigorous activity include: jogging/ running ( 1 mile in < 10 minutes); fast cycling (>10 miles per hour); active sports such as hurling, football, soccer, basketball, squash or aerobics; circuit training; swimming lengths; fast paced dancing such as salsa, Irish dancing, quick step etc; skipping; heavy gardening; or hill-walking with a backpack.
It is best to include a mixture of moderate and vigorous activity over the week. In addition it is advisable to also include activities that increase muscle strength, balance and flexibility. Muscle strengthening activities help to keep your muscles strong and this helps you to carry out your daily activities. Having more muscle and stronger muscle is really beneficial as you get older, helping you to remain independent, and it is also really import for recovery from illness, surgery or some medical treatments e.g. surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy. Strength exercise includes using hand-held weights, weight machines or using your body weight to build muscle. Exercises to improve balance and flexibility help to prevent falls and to keep your muscles limber. These include: stretches, standing from sitting, standing on one foot, walking on heels and toes, yoga and tai chi.
It is also important to remember that physical activity doesn’t just have to be performed during your leisure time. Physical activity includes the exercise involved in transport (e.g. walking or cycling to work, school or college), occupation (jobs that include activity or manual labour), as well as recreational activities.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD I BE DOING?
First and foremost, you should always exercise as tolerated and gradually build up your exercise levels at a comfortable rate. If you have: chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or osteoarthritis; a lack of mobility; or experience chest pain, dizziness or joint pain you should speak with your doctor before increasing your physical activity levels and look for advice on how to include physical activity safely. Even if you are limited in what exercise you can do, you should aim to be as active as you are able to be.
It is recommended that at a minimum, adults should engage in 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week. Exercise can be broken up into shorter bouts, but these need to last longer than 10 minutes. Engaging in vigorous activity is roughly equal to twice the amount of moderate activity, so 75 minutes of vigorous activity would meet recommendations as it is equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate activity. It is best to spread exercise out over the week and to include a variety of exercise types.
This is recommended as the minimum level of physical activity, and greater health benefits are yielded from increased exercise. It is optimal to include at least 60 minutes of moderate activity on 5 days of the week, totalling 300 minutes (or 150 minutes of vigorous activity). Again, it’s best to spread this out over the week and to include different forms of exercise to yield maximum benefits.
LIMITING SEDENTARY HABITS
Sedentary is another word for being inactive. Being sedentary means that your body is not doing any work and usually involves sitting or lying down for a period of time. There is convincing evidence that the more time you spend sedentary, the greater the risk of developing cancer. Sedentary activities include activities such as watching television, computer work, talking on the phone or driving.