Exercise may be seen as the main motivation to lose weight, but a leading cancer prevention charity has revealed that there is a far more important reason to work out, especially for British women.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, we are putting ourselves at risk of developing cancer because of our lack of physical activity.

The alert comes after figures suggested that women in the UK have the 10th highest rate in the world for cancers linked to being sedentary.


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Experts have estimated that 12% of bowel and breast cancers and one in 10 womb cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if women did more exercise.

In 2012, almost 80,000 British women were diagnosed with these cancers, at a rate of 133 women per every 100,000, the charity said.

In Barbados, which tops the chart, almost 155 women in every 100,000 developed bowel, breast or womb cancer.

"It is a major concern that women in the UK are placed so highly in the world for cancers that are partially preventable through people being more physically active," said Dr Rachel Thompson, head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund.

"These figures reflect the sedentary lifestyles of many people in Western countries, with lots of us spending too much time sitting around and not incorporating physical activity into our daily routine.

"Regular activity can help strengthen the immune system, keep hormone levels healthy and the digestive system in good shape, all of which help reduce our chances of developing cancer."

The charity has launched its 100 Calorie Challenge to help people reduce their risk of cancer through small lifestyle changes, including being more physically active.

Here is the World Cancer Research Fund list of the 10 countries with the highest rates of breast, bowel and womb cancers in women in 2012, along with the estimated rate per 100,000 women.

Barbados - 154.9 per 100,000

Belgium - 154.5 per 100,000

Denmark - 154.2 per 100,000

Netherlands - 145.3 per 100,000

France - 140.1 per 100,000

Iceland - 136.3 per 100,000

Luxembourg - 134.9 per 100,000

USA - 134.4 per 100,000

Bahamas - 134.3 per 100,000

United Kingdom - 133.3 per 100,000

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  • Vitamin D

    Studies have found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D have significantly lower rates of breast, ovarian, renal, colon, pancreatic, aggressive prostate, and other cancers. Researchers have even predicted that raising vitamin D levels in the United States and Canada would prevent 58,000 people from getting breast cancer and 49,000 from getting colorectal cancer. However, Americans are woefully short on this essential nutrient. We get more than 90 per cent of vitamin D from sunshine, but people are avoiding the sun for fear of getting skin cancer, Dr. Teitelbaum says. “Avoid sunburn, not sunshine,” he says. And take a vitamin D nutritional supplement. He recommends that everyone take 1,000 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D a day, which you can find in a good multivitamin.

  • Curcumin

    Curcumin has killed cancer cells in the laboratory, shrunk tumors in animals, and helped prevent several forms of cancer from developing in animal studies. “Curcumin is a pretty remarkable herb,” Teitelbaum says. There are more than 1,000 studies showing that it’s effective for cancer, he says. But if you’re not eating foods made with curry every day (because curcumin is derived from turmeric), you’re probably not getting enough for cancer protection, he says. Should everyone take a dietary supplement? It’s probably only necessary if you have a strong family history of cancer, Teitelbaum says. Be sure to find a supplement specifically designed for easy absorption, such as the product Curamin.

  • Vitamin B

    Some research has shown that B vitamins, including folic acid (vitamin B9), can lower the risk for some cancers, but the research hasn’t been conclusive. Observational studies have found that people who get more folic acid may be less likely to get colon cancer, especially compared to people who are deficient in folic acid, and that getting vitamin B6 may lower the likelihood of getting colorectal cancer. But researchers haven’t done large clinical trials on these vitamins. The best option is to choose a good multivitamin that includes B vitamins rather than individual supplements.

  • Green Tea

    Studies done in the laboratory suggest that some compounds in antioxidant-rich green tea may help stop cancer cells from growing by cutting off their blood supply. One study from China found that people who drank green tea and did not smoke had a lower risk of getting esophageal cancer than those who didn’t drink green tea, but the results from other studies have been mixed. “It’s not the first place I reach to in terms of anti-cancer effect,” Teitelbaum says. But there are other reasons to sip: It lowers anxiety and heart attack risk, he says.

  • Selenium

    In areas of the world where the soil has high levels of selenium, there are significantly fewer deaths from cancer, including lung, breast, colon, ovarian, cervical, bladder, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers. However, clinical trials that have looked at selenium’s role in cancer prevention have been mixed. Because your body only needs a small amount of this mineral, the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables rather than taking selenium in nutritional supplements. You can get selenium from Brazil nuts, seafood, whole grains, cereal, meat and poultry, kidney, and liver.

  • Garlic

    Eating garlic may lower your risk for breast, colon, esophageal, pancreatic, and stomach cancers, according to preliminary studies. When researchers looked at the results of seven population studies, they found that those with higher amounts of garlic in their diet had lower risk for stomach and colorectal cancer. But the results of clinical trials have been mixed, and researchers don’t know how much garlic you may need for protection. The World Health Organization recommends that people get about a clove of garlic a day in their diet.

  • Fish Oil

    Truth be told, fish oil’s strength is not cancer prevention, Teitelbaum says. Some research has shown that women who eat fish twice a week have a lower risk for endometrial cancer, but in general the research looking at cancer protection hasn’t shown much of a link. However, fish oil can do so much for your health, including helping to prevent heart disease or stroke and lowering rates of depression. There’s good reason to focus on getting fish in your diet and consider taking fish oil nutritional supplements.

  • Beta Carotene

    Animal studies have suggested that vitamin A (which includes beta carotene) could shrink tumors, slow down the growth of tumors, and enhance cancer treatments. However, getting too much beta carotene or vitamin A can be toxic. When smokers took vitamin A dietary supplements, their risk of dying from lung cancer and heart disease increased. If you take a high dose of beta carotene, you can cause relative deficiency of other nutrients in the body, Teitelbaum says. For that reason, don’t get more than 5,000 international units of beta carotene a day.