Sit less, move more to lower cancer mortality risk, study says

The findings from a new study may encourage you to get off your couch and start walking around the neighborhood.

Research published on Thursday in JAMA Oncology has found that sedentary behavior is associated with a higher risk of cancer death.

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In a study of 8,002 participants from 2009 to 2012 (and a followup taking place in 2019 to 2020), researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center examined the correlation between physical activity and cancer mortality through hip-mounted accelerometers worn during waking hours for seven consecutive days. The participants were U.S. middle-aged and older adults enrolled in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, or REGARDS, study. Those receiving active cancer treatment were excluded from participation.

Researchers found that increasing exercise intensity to moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was linked to a 31 percent lower risk of cancer mortality. (iStock)

In multivariable-adjusted models, replacing just 30 minutes of sitting with some light exercise can reduce risk of death by cancer by 8 percent, researchers found. This type of activity includes slow walking, light gardening or gentle yoga.

While previous studies relied on self-reported data, the method using accelerometry is believed to offer a more objective and precise measurement.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death in U.S. adults, although more than 50 percent of cancer deaths are preventable through healthy lifestyle choices,” study authors wrote.

Replacing 30 minutes of sitting with some light exercise, like gentle yoga, can reduce risk of cancer death by 8 percent, researchers found. (iStock)

Replacing 30 minutes of sitting with some light exercise, like gentle yoga, can reduce risk of cancer death by 8 percent, researchers found. (iStock)

Upping physical activity to moderate-to-vigorous levels was linked to a 31 percent lower risk of cancer mortality. This type of exercise lends itself to a slight increase in breathing, yet still allows those partaking to talk easily. Brisk walking, water aerobics and ballroom dancing are a few examples.

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Study authors said guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly as an ideal goal for the primary and secondary prevention of cancer. Adherence to the recommendations is poor, with only 25 percent of U.S. adults meeting these guidelines, researchers wrote.

To gain even more benefits, the American Heart Association recommends being active for at least 300 minutes (five hours) per week.