The results of a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in which 1.44 million participants were studied, found that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to the risk of developing cancer, but including even moderate exercise into your lifestyle can dramatically reduce your overall cancer risk.
An estimated 51% of Americans don’t get the recommended level of exercise deemed necessary by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And that number increases as we age.
Don’t Take This News Sitting Down
Too much sitting can kill you – and unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration. The lead author of the above referenced study, Dr. Susan Gilchrist, states:
“This is the first study that definitively shows a strong association between not moving and cancer death. Our findings show that the amount of time a person spends sitting prior to a cancer diagnosis is predictive of time to cancer death.”
Out of the 26 cancers studied, the level of physical activity was associated with lowered risks of 13 cancers, including esophageal adenocarcinoma, liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia, endometrial, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, colon, head and neck, rectal, bladder, and breast cancers.
A five-year follow-up of the original study determined that the most sedentary men and women of all who participated had an 82% higher risk of dying from cancer compared to those who were least sedentary.
Sitting Is The New Smoking
As this study and others have shown, it is estimated that physical inactivity is harmful to your health. Linked to over three million preventable deaths each year, being sedentary is the 4th leading cause of death from non-communicable diseases. A sedentary lifestyle is attributed to an estimated 25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes diagnoses, and an even higher amount of heart disease occurrences.
And the problem isn’t confined to the U.S. According to an article published in Better Health, physical inactivity of Australian citizens ranks 2nd in causes of cancer (behind smoking). It is attributed to 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes cases, and nearly 30% of heart disease causes.
Moving To Prevent Cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends getting at least 2½ hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week. And that’s not so hard to do if you walk just 20-25 minutes per day.
Dr. Gilchrist agrees: “It might not sound like a lot, but this study tells us even light activity has cancer survival benefits.”
Here are some simple ways to sneak some exercise into your daily routine:
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs instead;
- Park at the far corner of a parking lot when visiting your favorite store;
- Stand up and walk around a minimum of once an hour no matter where you are – home, work, on a plane;
- Take a walk break instead of a smoke break;
- Turn your TV time into active time by challenging yourself to bursts of mini-workouts during commercials;
- If you live in the city, get off the bus stop one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way;
- Increase the distance you walk your dog (he’ll love it and your body will thank you);
- Do some outdoor gardening – you’ll gain the added benefit of sunshine;
- Join a nearby gym – many Medicare Advantage Plans provide free gym membership, including Silver Sneakers, a program that offers live online exercise classes;
- Go dancing – just 2½ hours a week could prevent more than 850,000 cases of disease and injury in the over 60 population; help prevent over 400,000 older adults from breaking hips, reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, and benefit over 200,000 people in avoiding dementia.
The bottom line is that sitting for hours at a time, lying in bed or on the sofa all day – all forms of sedentary activity — are directly related to significant health risks. But the good news is that the converse is also true! Simple, consistent changes to your everyday lifestyle allow you to mitigate your risk of increasing your cancer risk or prolonging recovery.
It’s a doable, worthwhile practice that can help put YOU back in control of your health. That’s the whole idea behind the science of epigenetics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fastats: Exercise or Physical Activity. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm
“Sedentary lifestyle linked to cancer mortality,” Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sedentary-lifestyle-linked-to-cancer-mortality#Objective-measure
“Study shows sedentary behavior independently predicts cancer mortality,” EurekAlert (June 18, 2020). https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/580403
Biswas, P. Oh, G. Faulkner, R. Bajaj, et al., “Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults,” Annals of Internal Medicine (Jan 20, 2015). https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M14-1651
Michael Knowles, “Dance classes can stop heart disease, cancer and dementia’, experts say,” Express (Apr 9, 2017). https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/789904/dance-classes-stop-heart-disease-cancer-dementia