Physical activity and cancer risk

Physical activityWe analyse global research on how physical activity affects the risk of developing cancer.


There is strong evidence that:

being physically active DECREASES the risk of

vigorous physical activity (eg running or fast cycling) DECREASES the risk of

Cancer Prevention Recommendation

> Be physically active

The evidence implies that, in general, the more physically active people are, the lower the risk of some cancers.

– This is the opinion of the Expert Panel and forms the basis of our Recommendation on physical activity

Exercise and movement

Physical activity is defined as any movement that uses skeletal muscles and requires more energy than resting. Physical activity has an effect on several bodily systems including endocrinologic, immunologic and metabolic processes which can, in turn, affect the risk for development of several cancers. Being physically active also helps to maintain a healthy weight and protect against cancer.

New technologies have encouraged people to increase the time they spend engaging in sedentary behaviours such as sitting in cars and watching television as well as using computers, electronic entertainment and mobile phones.

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2010, globally about 23% of adults did less than the recommended level of activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. The proportion of adults in high-income countries not meeting the recommended levels of activity is higher.

Insufficient levels of physical activity have been linked to a number of health problems including cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, poor bone health and depression.

Mechanisms: the biology linking physical activity with cancer

> Read more about the cancer process

Emerging research

We fund research on how diet affects cancer risk through our regular grant programme. Read about the latest findings and ongoing projects here.

Diet and Cancer Report 2018

In 2018, we produced the Diet and Cancer Report, the third in our series of major reports looking at the many ways in which our diets, and how active we are, affect our cancer risk. You can find out much more about physical activity and the risk of cancer by downloading a pdf of the relevant chapter in the 2018 report. Please note, however, that this webpage may have been updated since the report was published.