Sedentary: 80% increased risk of cancer

Regular physical activity prevents millions of premature deaths each year. In addition to its well-documented role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with a significant reduction in the incidence of several types of cancers.

However, this prevention potential remains largely untapped. Because barely a quarter of the population performs the minimum physical activity recommended to reduce the risk of cancer or recurrence. Or 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per week (brisk walking, for example).

8000 volunteers observed at each movement for 5 years

The higher incidence of cancer affecting physically inactive people obviously has repercussions on the mortality associated with this disease. According to a meta-analysis of 14 studies, physical inactivity is associated with a 13% increase in cancer deaths. An increase similar to that observed for cardiovascular mortality. However, it is likely that this increase in mortality risk is even higher. Because in this type of study, the level of sedentary lifestyle is estimated by the participants themselves and can therefore be underestimated.

To circumvent this problem, researchers recruited 8000 volunteers (45 years and over). They objectively evaluated their usual level of physical activity by measuring their movements for 7 days using an accelerometer. Participants were subsequently followed for a period of approximately 5 years. The number of people in the cohort who died of cancer during this period was also counted.

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First of all, the researchers confirmed the current trend in modern societies towards greater sedentariness. On average, study participants spent about 13 of their 16 waking hours in a seated or inactive position. Nevertheless, a certain percentage of the volunteers were less sedentary. This allowed the researchers to compare cancer mortality rates between the most active (11 hours or less per day in a sitting position) and the most sedentary (sitting 13 hours or more per day).

Sedentary people are 82% more likely to develop cancer

The results obtained are unequivocal. Compared to the most active people, very sedentary people had an 82% greater risk of dying from cancer during the follow-up period. Overall, the researchers estimate that after 11 hours spent in a seated position, each additional hour devoted to sedentary activities increases the risk of cancer mortality by 16%.

Even in good health, a sedentary lifestyle will eventually have your skin

This increased risk is independent of traditional risk factors for premature mortality. Such as smoking, general state of health and level of education, among others. This suggests that prolonged sedentary life represents an independent risk factor for cancer mortality. In other words, even someone who is generally healthy has a greater risk of dying prematurely from cancer if they are too sedentary.

Everything counts, even the most everyday activities like cleaning and gardening

According to the statistical models developed by the researchers, this increased risk of mortality associated with a sedentary lifestyle can be reversed simply by moving a little more. For example, they estimate that for every 30 minutes of additional exercise per day, the risk of dying from cancer decreases by 31%. Benefits are also observed for very light activities. The simple fact of devoting only 10 minutes a day to housework, gardening or any other action that makes it possible not to remain seated reduces the risk of mortality due to cancer by 8%. The important thing is therefore to move, whatever the type of activity carried out.

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Strain T et al. Use of the pre-vented fraction for the population to determine deaths averted by existing prevalence of physical activity: a descriptive study. Lancet Global Health 2020; 8: e920.

Moore SC et al. Leisure-time physical activity and risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016; 176: 816–825.

Biswas A et al. Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann. Intern. Med. 2015; 162: 123-32.

Gilchrist SC et al. Association of sedentary behavior with cancer mortality in middle-aged and older US Adults. JAMA Oncol., published June 18, 2020.


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