Exercise and Colon Cancer

Exercise is good for you — no surprise there! But there is mounting evidence that exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer in particular and even help people who have already been diagnosed with this type of cancer.

How does exercise affect colon cancer?

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of many kinds of cancer. For colon cancer, in particular, exercise is especially valuable because of the effects it can have on the digestive system. 

The colon is exposed to carcinogens for longer periods of time in a sluggish digestive system. Regular exercise leads to a regular digestive system, and that reduces the risk of colon cancer. 

Obesity also increases the chances of developing and of dying from this condition. Regular exercise helps to prevent obesity, which is another way it helps reduce your risk.

How much exercise is required?

Research from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute showed that 150 minutes per week, the amount of moderate exercise recommended for all adults, is enough to improve colon cancer survival rates by 20%. 

A review of numerous studies found a 24% reduction in the risk of developing colon cancer between people who got the most and the least activity. Because the studies did not all include the same information, it is difficult to be more specific. Still, one of the largest studies included women who walked briskly for an hour 6-7 days a week and also women who walked for a total of half an hour or less per week.

The American Cancer Society recommends moderate exercise for 30 – 60 minutes daily, such as walking. The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that lifelong, regular exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as 50%. 

Bottom line: while research isn’t completely clear on the precise amount of exercise needed to reduce risk, it’s safe to say that following the general recommendation of 150 minutes each week of moderate exercise is a smart move. 

Talk with your doctor about starting an exercise program if you want to reduce your chances of this type of cancer. If you are concerned that you might have this condition, ask for a referral to a gastroenterologist.