The Benefits of Walking: Preventing Cancer One Step at a Time

The benefits of walking: preventing cancer one step at a time


A study reports that taking 10,000 steps a day is associated with a markedly reduced risk of getting or dying from cancer.

It It is now clearly established that the adoption of a physically active lifestyle is associated with a significant reduction in all chronic diseases, whether cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, dementia or several types of cancer. Unfortunately, this preventive potential remains largely untapped, with nearly three out of four Canadians not doing the minimum recommended physical activity of 150 minutes per week.  

Not daily

Another simple way to estimate activity level is to measure the number of steps taken during a day.(1)

Again, studies that have measured this parameter confirm that most North -Americans are inactive, taking on average only between 4,000 and 6,000 steps a day, only half of what is needed to be considered active (10,000 steps).

The benefits of walking: preventing cancer one step at a time

There is therefore a huge gap to be filled in order to achieve sufficient levels of activity to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

10,000 steps goal

A recent study illustrates the importance of increasing the number of daily steps to prevent cancer and reduce the risk of premature death.(2) 

In this study, of 78,500 people (mean age 61) followed for seven years, researchers examined the association between participants' daily step count (measured using a wrist-worn accelerometer ) and the incidence of 13 types of cancer influenced by physical activity (which includes the most frequent cancers, in particular those of the breast and the colon).

They observed a very clear association between the number of steps taken each day and the risk of being affected or dying from one or other of these cancers, with a progressive reduction in the risk which reaches a maximum of approximately 35% at 10,000 steps per day.  

Similar reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death in general were also observed, which again shows how a sedentary lifestyle is harmful and how active you really need to be to improve your health.

For someone who is sedentary or not very active, a target of 10,000 steps per day may seem like a tough goal. But it should be remembered that an increase in the level of activity, even more modest, can have measurable positive effects: for example, a meta-analysis of 15 studies involving a total of 50,000 people showed that doing 6000 to 8000 steps per day is associated with an approximately 50% reduction in the risk of premature mortality.(3)

The important thing is therefore to gradually start walking a little more, for example by adding 1000 steps per day (a walk of only 10-15 min), and to gradually increase the duration of this walk. 

Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk instead of driving to the convenience store, go out at lunchtime, stay up while talking on the phone, plan walks in your diary, rediscovering the beauty of nature in the parks or the forest, so many ways to integrate this change into your life.

The survival of animal species, such as humans, has depended, throughout the evolution of life on Earth, on our ability to move, whether to escape ubiquitous predators, to hunt animals or to gather plants essential to our survival. We have been hunter-gatherers for over 90% of human evolution… Our physiology and biochemistry are intimately associated and coordinated with a very intense level of physical activity, and have been for millions of years of evolution.

This sudden sedentary lifestyle of recent decades is generating health problems because it is incompatible with the molecular mechanisms of homeostasis that keep us in this metabolic balance that we call “health”. After quitting smoking, moving is certainly the change in your life that will have the greatest impact on the quality of your daily life, on reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases and on increasing your overall life expectancy. .

  • (1) Tudor-Locke C et al. Revisiting “How many steps are enough?” » Med. Science. Sports Exercise 2008; 40: S537-43.
  • (2) Del Pozo Cruz B et al. Prospective associations of daily step counts and intensity with cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and all-cause mortality. JAMA Intern. Med. 2022; 182: 1139-1148.
  • (3) Paluch AE et al. Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts. Lancet Public Health 2022; 7: e219-e228.