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Inactivity is a health foe: Evidence shows cancer risk from sitting

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Sitting for long periods raises risk of breast and colon cancer.

The AICR warns sitting boosts cancer risk, even for those who exercise daily.

Inactivity is just bad for your health. In the past several years, a variety of studies have linked prolonged sitting to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and increased risk of dying from all causes. Now scientists from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) say inactivity - specifically prolonged sitting - boosts the chances of developing breast, colon and other types of cancer.

In the newest study, presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research's annual conference, scientists showed evidence that 100,000 new cases of breast cancer and colon cancer per year are caused by physical inactivity.

One study highlighted at the conference; published October in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, found women who get up and take frequent breaks from sitting had smaller waistlines and lower biomarkers for metabolic syndrome and inflammation, both of which are linked to cancer.

It’s not enough to just exercise 30 minutes every day. A number of studies show sitting for too long can cause irreversible damage to health that bursts of exercise activity once a day just won’t remedy.

To put it in perspective, AICR spokesperson Alice Bender, MS RD said, “ So this person, who fits the traditional definition of someone who's physically active, is actually active just 3 percent of his waking day." She says it’s time to think in terms of “make time and break time”.

Even short periods of activity can lower the chances of early death and of developing cancer. The AICR is recommending people who work at computers get up every 60 minutes and take a walk.

Other suggestions include using weights at your desk to keep muscles moving, standing during phone calls, stretching in your work cubicle and even asking your employer to help by placing a chin up bar or punching bag in the break room.

Employers are also encouraged to conduct meetings while taking a walk. The researchers say even a one minute walk can lower the chances of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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The AICR has developed an infographic to show the impact of frequent activity for lowering the chances of developing cancer.

Christine Friedenreich, PhD, of Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada said, "In breast and colon cancers, for example, we're seeing overall risk reductions of about 25 to 30 percent associated with higher levels of physical activity.

With prostate cancer the evidence isn't as strong but it's still there - about 10 to 20 percent lower risk. For endometrial cancer, we are finding about 30 to 35 percent risk reduction with more physical activity.”

It seems researchers have tried a variety of ways to get the message out that a sedentary lifestyle leads to chronic disease and early death.

Studies also show cancer therapy outcomes are better when patients continue to remain active.

Lawrence A. Soler, President and CEO, Partnership for a Healthier America suggests Inactivity – at work and at home in front of the TV –“impacts the economic and national security of our nation.” Soler presented statistics that only 31 percent of American adults say they engage in any form regular, leisure-time physical activity .

The newest health risk found from inactivity is cancer. The researchers note it’s not uncommon for workers to spend 75 percent of their work hours at the desk with no activity breaks.

The AICR says the time to get active to lower the risk of cancer is now. Avoiding prolonged sitting and increasing activity throughout the day could eliminate 100,000 new cases of breast and colon cancer each year.

November 3, 2011

Image credit: morguefile



Why not learn Pilates and every hour or so do some of the Pilates standing exercises in your cubicle. Try to see how you can incorporate some of the fitness moves you have learned within the 8-10 hour period you are in the office. Breaktime? Lunch? Restroom Break? Well if people can get 5 min. smoking breaks, they can get fitness breaks too!