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BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

Don't just sit around -- it may increase your risk of cancer

November 04, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • Sitting for long stretches of time increases one's risk of cancer, regardless of the total amount of time one spends exercising each day, according to researchers.
Sitting for long stretches of time increases one's risk of cancer,… (American Institute for…)

If you’re sitting down, you might want to stand up after reading this: Nearly 100,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the U.S. each year if we all spent less time sitting in our cars, at our desks and on our couches.

Even people who exercise daily can increase their risk of cancer by remaining sedentary for extended periods of time, researchers said Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research focused on food, nutrition and physical activity.

Using data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, researchers estimated that up to 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer each year are tied to lack of physical activity.

“Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right,” Neville Owen, the head of behavioral epidemiology at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, said in a statement. “It seems highly likely that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. The phenomenon isn’t dependent on body weight or how much exercise people do.”

Owen presented data at the meeting showing that adults are sedentary for 9.3 hours of the day, which amounted to 60% of their time spent awake. Another 6.5 hours (or 35% of awake time) were spent in “light activity,” like walking to one’s car. The data were gathered by accelerometers attached to study participants.

Even someone who starts her day off with a vigorous 30-minute workout still has to worry about how she spends the other 15 1/2 hours of her waking hours, said Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Institute for Cancer Research. After all, she noted, that 30 minutes amounts to only 3% of her time spent awake.

What can you do? Just getting up for a minute or two each hour would offer some protection, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Instead of sending an email, walk over to a colleague’s desk and chat in person, the experts suggest. Or head to the water cooler for a drink.

For a little help visualizing what you should do, check out this graphic on the American Institute for Cancer Research website that links one's pattern of behavior throughout the day with cancer risk.

Return to the Booster Shots blog.

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