Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Call for Information & Support

Health professionals

Cancer and physical activity, what’s the link?

Being physically active and reducing sitting time can reduce your risk of certain cancers. Physical activity and inactivity are not two sides of the same coin, and there are many things you can do to reduce your cancer risk in both areas, that will also have many other positive health benefits. These include reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Being active and eating well can also help us avoid excess weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for 13 types of cancer.

Physical activity is any movement you do during your day, and while this may include things like planned exercise, regular tasks such as shopping, gardening and cleaning also count. Both “moderate intensity” and “vigorous” physical activity are good for your health and for reducing cancer risk. Physical inactivity is basically any time spent sitting down. Breaking up long periods of physical inactivity is good for your overall health, and the more often you do it, the better.

Insufficient physical inactivity is responsible for 1.6 per cent of all cancers annually in Australia, and in particular is linked to colorectal, breast, and endometrial cancer. This page will look at the types and amounts of physical activity you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.

What increases/ decreases the risk?

Moderate or vigorous physical activity reduces the risk of colorectal cancers and may reduce the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Vigorous physical activity may reduce the risk of both pre and post-menopausal breast cancer. There is also some evidence that being physically inactive (sitting more) may increase the risk of endometrial cancer.

Reduce your risk

The environments we live in have an immense impact on the types and amounts of physical activity we do, such as:

  • The design of our neighbourhoods including safe, connected paths and access to public open space.
  • Sedentary work environments.
  • Access to public transport.
  • Opportunities to participate in sport and recreation activities.

Cancer Council WA is working behind the scenes to advocate for environments that support individuals to be physically active.

When it comes to moving your body, there’s no one-size-fits all! Here are some key areas to consider for the best health benefits:

  1. Move more – any movement is good, as is any extra movement above what you are currently doing.
  2. Move harder – including both moderate and vigorous intensity exercise has the most benefits, if you’re able to.
  3. Move stronger – incorporating strength exercises may reduce your risk while offering many other benefits.
  4. Move often – break up sitting time whenever you can.

If you have a cancer diagnosis

Being active can help manage some of the common side effects of treatment, speed up recovery, and improve your quality of life. For some cancers, exercise may even improve how you respond to treatment. Being physically active, along with eating a healthy diet, can help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence) for some cancer types.

Each cancer and cancer treatment will have differing side effects on your body and your health, and you may have additional concerns or challenges related to your physical activity. Cancer Council WA has a number of resources and programs that can help. You can find them here, or call Cancer Council WA’s 13 11 20 Information and Support Service.