For Immediate Release: August 18, 2008

Contact: Summer Faust, 202-328-7744 x 224

Survey: Americans Fall Short on Cancer-Protective Fitness

Few Aware that Physical Activity Lowers Cancer Risk

WASHINGTON, DC – According to a new survey commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), nearly three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) consider themselves physically active. However, only one in seven (16 percent) currently achieves the level of activity that experts associate with protection against cancer.

Read a Summary of AICR’s 2008 Physical Activity Survey (PDF)

AICR’s expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day to protect against cancer. (Moderate physical activity is defined as activity that causes the heart rate to increase and breathing to deepen, such as brisk walking.)

“Even though very few are currently achieving it, the level of activity that has been shown to help prevent cancer is not out of reach for most Americans,” explained AICR Nutritionist Sarah Wally, MS RD. “It really comes down to making a commitment to getting the heart rate up for a sustained amount of time every day.”

Americans who already devote some leisure time to exercise are ahead of the game, but workouts are only one form of physical activity. Wally stressed that meeting AICR’s recommendation doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive gear.

“For most Americans, it just means getting off the couch and becoming a bit more active, more often.” she said. A brisk walk, swim or bike ride will do the trick, as will some household chores, provided they get the heart pumping.

“In the end it doesn’t matter what activities you choose,” said Wally. “What matters is choosing to be active.” She also noted that those recommended 30 minutes can be divided up throughout the day, in 10 or 15-minute blocks.

As fitness improves, AICR recommends aiming to increase the length or intensity of activity (to 60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous); this is the level of physical activity associated with the prevention of weight gain, itself a major risk factor for cancer.

Blue Arrow AICR’s free brochure, Moving More for Cancer Prevention, is filled with tools, tips and practical advice for fitting more activity into your busy life.

Survey Reveals a Stark Disconnect in Awareness

2008 Physical Activity SurveyAccording to the AICR survey, most Americans are aware that physical activity helps prevent health conditions like obesity (86 percent) and heart disease (82 percent). But the message that regular physical activity also protects against cancer is not yet being heard; only 40 percent of respondents to the survey were aware of this link.

When responses to this question are grouped by sex, only 37 percent of men knew of physical activity’s cancer-fighting potential, compared to 49 percent of women.

“There’s an important message about health that men aren’t hearing yet,” says AICR Nutritionist Sarah Wally. “Women maybe more informed about breast cancer, and the factors that help prevent it, but the AICR expert report found convincing evidence that physical activity helps prevent colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in both men and women in the U.S.”

Some Findings from AICR’s 2008 Physical Activity Survey

Blue Arrow Duration of Physical Activity: Of self-identified “active” respondents, 27 percent engage in activity that lasts at least half an hour to 45 minutes at a time; just as many (27 percent) engage in activity of only 15 minutes to half an hour.

On those occasions when you engage in physical activity that causes your heartbeat to increase and your breathing to deepen, how much time do you spend on average?

Half an hour to 45 minutes at a time 27%
15 minutes to half an hour 27%
One hour or more 20%
45 minutes to 1 hour 18%
Less than 15 minutes 7%

Blue Arrow Frequency of Physical Activity: Of those same self-identified active respondents, nearly 1 out of 3 (31 percent) engages in moderate physical activity two to three times per week; almost as many (29 percent) active respondents engage in moderate physical activity on a daily basis.

How often do you engage in any physical activity that DOES cause your heartbeat to increase and your breathing to deepen? Would you say…?

Two to three times per week 31%
Daily 29%
Four to six times per week 25%
Never/very infrequently 12% 12%

Blue Arrow Why Are You Active?: “To feel good” was the number one reason cited by “active” respondents (87 percent) for being physically active, while 71 percent mentioned a desire to prevent weight gain and 57 percent said they were trying to lose weight; only 32 percent associated activity with cancer prevention.

Why are you physically active? Is it to…?

Feel good/have more energy 87%
Have fun 75% 75%
Prevent weight gain 71% 71%
Protect against heart disease 69%
To look good 67%
To lose weight 57%
To protect against cancer 32%

Blue Arrow Why Aren’t You Active? Among respondents who do not consider themselves physically active, 34 percent said they were too busy to be more active. Another 32 percent cited medical or physical obstacles to activity.

What keeps you from being more physically active?

Too busy 34%
Medical/physical reason 32%
No interest/No need 12%
Too lazy 3%
Don’t know where to start 3%
Too expensive 2%
Age 2%
Weather 1%

AICR’s Moving More to Prevent Cancer brochure can be read online and downloaded as a PDF at Single copies can be ordered for free by calling 1-800-843-8114 extension 419, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (; Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (; World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (; and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (

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