When it comes to heart disease or diabetes, most Americans know that regular workouts can significantly cut their chances of developing one of these conditions. But did you know that regular exercise could also significantly reduce a person’s risk for cancer? If you’re American, probably not, Parade reports.

In fact, a new study from Washington University in St. Louis shows only 3.4 percent of 1,161 people surveyed about their exercise health associated an inactive lifestyle with increased cancer risk. On the other hand, about two thirds of participants knew that limited exercise was linked to heart and metabolic problems. Now, researchers are setting out to understand this discrepancy. 

According to the report, the study’s authors theorize that the reason most people don’t make the connection between cancer and physical activity is that most exercise campaigns emphasize the positive effects of working out on cardiovascular health and weight loss. But staying active can also significantly reduce a person’s risk of cancer—including colon cancer, breast cancer and cancers of the head, neck, kidneys and liver. 

So how does working out protect against cancer? Several studies suggest exercise lowers levels of hormones such as insulin and estrogen that have been associated with cancer progression; helps to prevent obesity, which is linked to cancer; reduces inflammation; improves immune system function; and reduces the amount of time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system.

“People might be more likely to exercise if they understand just how important physical activity is to their overall health—not just their heart health,” said Erica Waters, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of surgery at Washington University. 

To cut back on cancer risk, the American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity activity each week. To learn more about the effects of exercise on cancer care and treatment, click here