Primary healthcare can help increase physical activity levels and reduce cancer risk

New report highlights how, with robust policies, GPs and nurses can help people do more physical activity and reduce their risk of cancer.

21 June 2023

World Cancer Research Fund International has released a new report: Building Momentum: Establishing robust policies to promote physical activity in primary healthcare. This is the 4th report in its Building Momentum series and the first to address physical activity policy.

Physical activity plays a vital role in promoting and maintaining good physical and mental health. It can help prevent and manage a number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer. However, too many of us are not meeting the recommended physical activity levels.

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150–300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, with muscle-strengthening activity on at least 2 days each week.

Evidence of reduced cancer risk

We have strong evidence that physical activity helps protect against endometrial, breast (postmenopausal) and colon cancers, as well as against weight gain, overweight and obesity. The latter is a cause of at least 13 cancers.

Primary healthcare professionals such as GPs and nurses are ideally placed to promote increased activity and support people to become more active, as they are often people’s first point of contact. To do this, robust policies on promoting physical activity in primary healthcare are needed within and between governments, local contexts and healthcare settings. The WHO clearly states that the promotion of physical activity in primary healthcare is an essential tool that can make a difference as part of a whole-systems approach.

The report provides policymakers, healthcare professionals and local partners with guidance on how to develop rigorous policies to promote physical activity in primary healthcare.

It draws strongly on the experience of developing and implementing physical activity promotion policies from experts in 9 countries and gives detailed snapshots of the situation in World Cancer Research Fund International’s network countries: the Netherlands, the US and the UK (England, Scotland and Wales). There are also further examples of policy initiatives globally.

Kendra Chow, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at World Cancer Research Fund International, said:

Being more active is crucial for good physical and mental health, and can help prevent cancer. Primary healthcare plays a key role in helping people be more active. Our report provides the guidance needed on designing policies to support them.

Governments have the opportunity to meet WHO agreed targets on increasing physical activity, to improve population health and reduce the burden of NCDs, including cancer.

Join World Cancer Research Fund International’s webinar on 21 June 2–3pm BST, when our new Building Momentum report will be discussed.

> Register for today’s webinar


For more information and media enquiries contact: or (07717 131883)

About our Building Momentum series

Building Momentum reports take the latest research and lessons learned from governments who have implemented relevant policies to outline how to design and implement robust policies. The reports are designed to be tools to help policymakers overcome common barriers to implementing evidence-based policies.

> Read the previous reports in our Building Momentum series

About the webinar

Join World Cancer Research Fund International’s webinar on 21 June 2–3pm BST. We will discuss the emerging evidence for the benefits of promoting physical activity in primary healthcare as a whole-of-society approach to increasing physical activity levels, in addition to why designing and enacting such policies is beneficial for health and economies.

About World Cancer Research Fund International

World Cancer Research Fund International is a not-for-profit organisation that leads and unifies a network of charities based in Europe and the Americas, along with representation in Asia, giving us a global voice to inform people about cancer prevention.

We are a leading authority on the links between diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer, and we work collaboratively with organisations around the world to encourage governments to implement policies to prevent cancer and other NCDs. and Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram & LinkedIn.

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