World Cancer Day: Five hours of moderate exercise a week reduces cancer risk

Campaign warns of the risks of sedentary lifestyle, one of the main preventable causes related to the incidence of tumors; Data from the scientific journal Cadernos de Saúde Pública indicate that 72.5% of people diagnosed with tumors in Brazil reported not practicing physical activities.

After two years of the pandemic, it was possible to notice an increase in the rate of sedentary lifestyle, which can impact on various health problems, such as body aches, and even contribute to the appearance of cancer. According to data from the Ministry of Health, about 47% of adult Brazilians do not practice the levels of physical activity recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), while the scientific journal Cadernos de Saúde Pública indicates that 72.5% of people diagnosed with cancer in Brazil reported having a sedentary life – and this statement was more evident in the grouping by gender and age, being more common among women between 40 and 59 years old and in men after 60.

For Carlos Gil Ferreira, medical director of the Oncoclínicas Group and president of the Oncoclínicas Institute, it is possible that we may observe a scenario of constant increase in the number of oncological diseases, worsened even in the short term as a result of the effects of the pandemic on the population’s living habits.

“Previous analyzes already point out that social isolation caused a worsening in the quality of life of Brazilians, especially in the months of the most acute phases of restrictions. Among the reports, the more frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages and processed and ultra-processed foods, added to the difficulty in performing physical activities, caused changes in the health of Brazilians and we will have to deal with the challenges to reverse the damage caused”, points out the expert.

In line with this perception, as of April 8, the date that marks World Cancer Day, the Oncoclínicas Group launches its awareness campaign to raise awareness of the importance of physical exercise in cancer prevention and in the quality of life of general population and cancer patients. Throughout the month, actions will be carried out to activate, engage and encourage the dissemination of information with the support of experts made available on the official pages of Oncoclínicas on social media and through the website

“Campaigns to warn about the harmful effects of cigarette consumption led to an effective reduction in smoking in the country, a fact that can be considered one of the greatest achievements of Oncology in the last 20 years, in addition to advances in the development of new medications. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to maximize the dissemination of information about care when it comes to physical inactivity and eating habits, especially in view of the additional challenges that have arisen as a result of the pandemic”, reinforces Carlos Gil.

In Brazil, according to an estimate by the National Cancer Institute (INCA), 625,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. However, although the disease occurs in part because of the increase in life expectancy, there is a considerable volume of diagnoses linked to avoidable risk factors. “The lack of physical activity and unbalanced diets, with low consumption of fiber and excess of fat, can be related to 50% of cases of endometrial cancer, 37% of esophageal cancer, 25% of malignant colon tumors and 20% of the occurrences of breast cancer, just to cite some estimates brought by studies carried out inside and outside the country”, says the oncologist.

From a global perspective, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an entity linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in the last two decades the total number of new cancer cases has almost doubled, jumping from 10 million estimated in 2000 to 19.3 million in 2020. The projections of the Globocan 2020 report, released by the entity, also indicate that in the coming years there is a tendency for an increase in cancer detection rates, reaching the level of almost 50% more in 2040 compared to the current scenario, when the world should then register something around 28.4 million new cases of cancer.

The number of cancer deaths, in turn, rose from 6.2 million in 2000 to 10 million in 2020 – an equation that indicates that one in every six deaths in the world is due to cancer.

keeping an eye on the body

Different scientific studies recently published contribute to reinforce the alert about the importance of lifestyle habits guided by food balance and body movement as part of essential public health measures to curb the incidence of cancer in Brazil. One of them, published in January 2022 in the “Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical”, points out that from 1999 to 2019, the increase in physical inactivity and the obesity rate among the population, largely due to the growing consumption of ultra-processed and of alcohol intake (which rose 41%), contributed to the increase in oncological risk factors.

The medical director of the Oncococlínicas Group also adds that exercising impacts on a lower risk of developing neoplasms. “When we are physically active, studies show that it is possible to reduce the risks of at least 13 types of cancer, such as rectal, bladder, breast, blood, among others”.

The change brought about by simple lifestyle adjustments is indeed effective, as shown by an analysis published in October 2021 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Conducted in the United States, research indicates that brisk walking, 45 minutes a day – totaling five hours of moderate exercise per week – can effectively reduce the risk of cancer, in addition to having a positive impact on the quality of life of the general population, preventing a number of other diseases.

And these are just some of the practical examples that reinforce the protective role of combating sedentary lifestyle as a tool to reduce the risk of malignant tumors. As an alternative to improve the scenario, Carlos Gil reinforces that the routine must be changed gradually and with adaptations.

“It’s important to find activities that you really enjoy and start with lighter and moderate exercises, which can increase in intensity over time. Even simple everyday activities like climbing stairs, walking the dog or walking the kids to school are ways to bring movement to the body. In addition to an exercise routine, it is very important that the general population adopt a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, proteins and vegetables and keep hydration up to date”, he comments.

Exercise is also relevant for anyone who has already been diagnosed with cancer.

For cancer patients, the practice of physical exercises can also bring several benefits. “They increase the activity of some cells of the immune system, which can reach cancer cells”, explains Carlos Gil.

“In the case of sedentary people, in addition to cancer, it is quite likely that they can develop metabolic problems, diabetes, among others. Therefore, when the organism is weakened, it suffers impacts in the fight against neoplasia”, he emphasizes.

In addition, the practice of physical activities also brings greater survival to patients, in addition to reducing the risk of metastases, as there is an increase in inflammatory substances in the body that directly impact the uncontrolled development of cancer cells.

The sum of these mentioned data results in an important warning: it is necessary to review our life habits – or the lack of them – to stop the statistics.

“Encouraging the constant practice of physical exercise, a balanced diet, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and other simple measures appear not only as essential initiatives to stop the increased rates of cancer, as a way of promoting quality of life and general well-being. These measures also contribute to enhancing the treatment process for people diagnosed with the disease and other conditions such as diabetes and hypertension”, concludes Carlos Gil.



Founded in 2010, Grupo Oncoclínicas (ONCO3) is the largest private institution in the clinical oncology market in Brazil in terms of revenue. Oncoclínicas has 91 units, including clinics, genomics laboratories, pathological anatomy and integrated cancer treatment centers, strategically located in 25 Brazilian cities. Since its foundation, it has gone through a process of expansion with the purpose of becoming a reference in cancer treatments in all regions where it operates.

The Company’s clinical staff is composed of more than 1,000 medical specialists with an emphasis on oncology, in addition to multidisciplinary support teams, which are responsible for the comprehensive care line in the fight against cancer. Oncoclínicas has an exclusive partnership in Brazil with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, one of the most renowned cancer research and treatment centers in the world, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, in Boston, USA.

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