Taking on an exercise programme could also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other cancers.
And regular physical activity can even be beneficial after a cancer diagnosis has already been made.
In one of the first studies of its kind, a team examined data from a previous study which included more than 150,000 men and women.
Researchers compared their levels of physical activity between 1982 and 1997.
They linked those activity levels both to the number of colon cancer diagnoses between 1998 and 2005 and to the number of colon cancer deaths that occurred between 1998 and 2006.
It showed that those who exercised consistently for at least ten years had the lowest risk of colon cancer death.
But Dr Kathleen Wolin at Washington University School of Medicine, the first author of the study, said that while the greatest benefits seem to show in those who have exercised for the largest percentage of their lives, it wasn’t necessary to run marathons or work out for hours a day.
She said: “You get enormous ‘bang for the buck’. You go for a 30-minute walk every day and you’re going to reduce your risk of a number of diseases.
“And in addition, our research has also shown that you feel better, physically and mentally, so you’re able to function better.
“People who were consistently active over the course of their adulthood had a lower risk of death from colon cancer than those who were sedentary.
“People often wonder around the start of a new year whether exercise really will help them stay healthy or whether it’s already too late.
“It’s never too late to start exercising, but it’s also never too early to start being active. That’s the message we hope people will take away from this study.”
Dr Wolin, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Public Health Sciences, said the benefits of starting an exercise program include not just preventing colon cancer and death from the disease, but also reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and other cancers.
She also noted that physical activity can even be beneficial after a cancer diagnoses has been made.
She added: “There is evidence that being physically active can reduce the risk of recurrence and death following a cancer diagnoses.
“So even those who haven’t been physically active can begin exercising after their diagnosis and see some real benefits as well.”
Colon cancer, or bowel cancer, is the third most common cancer in the UK, with about 100 diagnosed every day.
About 38, 610 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007 in the UK and it is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer.
Source : Telegraph UK