Health & Fitness | November 18, 2021 2:16 pm

How Many Minutes Per Week Should You Exercise to Avoid Cancer?

It's an attainable number. Start drafting your fitness resolutions early.

A man jogging down the sidewalk.
C'mon, you can carve out 45 minutes a day.
Johner Images/Getty

Research funding for cancer is absolutely off the charts. The National Cancer Institute has over $6 billion available on a yearly basis, and rightfully so — cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, at 21% of all deaths annually. That’s just a tick behind heart disease, at 23%.

Still, for all the money and time spent fighting cancer in labs and hospitals, you can dramatically cut your chances of a future diagnosis with a simple lifestyle switch. A new study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and noted by The New York Times, found that 315 minutes of exercise a week (which boils down to just 45 minutes a day) reduces cancer incidence as we age.

The researchers assessed reported physical activity and susceptibility to “common cancers” among 600,000 adult men and women throughout the United States, using a statistical model called a population-attributable fraction (PAF). In essence, the formula allows scientists to pinpoint when specific diseases are the direct result of specific behaviors.

Here, the authors looked for cases of stomach, kidney, esophageal, colon, bladder, breast and endometrial tumors, then cross-referenced that information with self-professed inactivity in American adults. (They pored over surveys where people’s answers did not meet the American Cancer Society’s criteria for movement each week, which is a little over 300 minutes of exercise.)

After plugging all of this data in, they discovered that 3% of common cancers could be completely avoided if people exercised 45 minutes a day. That number varies depending on the type of cancer; for instance, stomach cancer was most tied to inactivity. A whopping 17% of cases were attributable to not meeting daily exercise guidelines.

If that 3% figure doesn’t sound too significant, keep in mind that’s 46,000 cancer cases. The disease, as The New York Times points out, is “bogglingly complex … with many overlapping, entwined causes,” but this is a sign that in some small way, a diagnosis isn’t inevitable.

And exercise, by the way, doesn’t have to mean running eight miles. Literally just stepping away from the desk to go on a long walk each day counts. You’ve heard us bang the “daily constitutional” drum before. We’re not going to stop. Especially now that we know it could save you from cancer.