Physical activity in leisure-time and risk of cancer: 14-year follow-up of 28,000 Danish men and women

Scand J Public Health. 2005;33(4):244-9. doi: 10.1080/14034940510005752.


Aim: The preventive effect of physical activity on risk of cancer in general remains controversial. This study aimed at assessment of the associations between leisure- time physical activity and incidence of cancer in the general population of adult men and women.

Methods: 13,216 women and 18,718 men aged 20-93 years selected from the general population participated in a health examination including a questionnaire with information on physical activity, smoking, alcohol intake, postmenopausal hormones, and socioeconomic status. Incident cases of cancers where recorded during a follow-up period of 14 years. The six most frequent cancer cases in both sexes were included in this analysis.

Results: A highly significant inverse association was seen between vigorous physical activity in leisure time and cancer of the ovary, adjusted rate ratio being 0.33 (95% CI 0.16-0.67; p = 0.001) for the most physical active women. In men there was a highly significant increase for non-melanoma skin cancer, with adjusted rate ratio of 1.72 (95% CI 1.23-2.40; p = 0.001), for the most active men and vigorous activity was associated with a non-significant lower risk of colon cancer, the adjusted rate ratio being 0.72 (95% CI 0.47-1.11; p = 0.06).

Conclusion: Generally, there were no, or only weakly, inverse associations between physical activity in leisure time and incidence of cancer, except for cancer of the ovary.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leisure Activities
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Postmenopause
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires