Medical experts have been telling us for years now how physical activity in general and exercise, in particular, can significantly benefit our long-term health and longevity, specifically cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. However, it turns out that the 150 minutes of exercise a week may help us live a long, happy, and healthy life, but it’s not a realistic goal for many adults. The truth is, less than 25% of the adult population can achieve this goal, and most of us still need a more attainable solution.
Hoping to find a viable solution to this widespread issue, a large American study brought out and looked through 47 experimental studies on the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on cancer, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and mortality. They then conducted their own research, drawing from a large database of 8,002 adults aged 45 years, whose lifestyle and habits were measured and recorded from 2003-2007 within the REGARDS study, the largest US ongoing cohort study in history.
The study participants were asked to wear accelerometers for 7 days, which were able to measure how much time they spent sitting and doing various activities in a week. Five years later, the researchers checked in on the participants once more, and it turned out that 3.3% (268) of them passed away due to cancer. The researchers found that those participants who moved around the least were more than twice as likely (52% increased risk) to die of cancer.
Having adjusted the data to meet other factors that can increase cancer risks like smoking, drinking, preexisting conditions, body-mass index, etc., the researchers concluded that those participants who continuously engaged in sedentary behavior were 36% more likely to die of cancer compared to those were sitting for the shortest time. Needless to say, this is a very troubling finding, but there is a silver lining to it.
What practical advice can we take from this study?
The optimistic side of the study is that you don’t have to exercise as much as previous recommendations suggest to reduce your risk of cancer mortality. Of course, in a perfect world, you ought to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, especially to prevent other health concerns, such as cardiovascular issues, joint pain, and many other issues.
However, the researchers maintain that simply interrupting your sedentary work or leisure time with short active breaks, like walking, taking the stairs, or light stretching can reduce your cancer mortality risk quite significantly, which is great news, especially if you remember that cancer is currently the leading cause of death in developed countries.
Simply taking a coffee break or walking to the water cooler and back every hour or so can really help! To get an idea of how much replacing just 30 minutes of daily sitting with minor activity can help you, the researchers offer the following data:
- 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (e.g. cycling, dancing, gardening) can decrease cancer mortality by 31%.
- The same amount of light exercise (e.g. making the bed, shopping, walking around the office) will lead to an 8% lower risk.
Thus, just minor daily activities in-between sitting can really help you promote your long-term health and longevity.
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