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Adults should ‘sit less and move more’ to promote longevity

US study finds that the more active you are, the less likely you are to die of cancer. Exercise cuts risk significantly.


Image via Adobe Stock

Don’t sit down! Right now many middle-class South Africans are likely getting a lot less exercise than they were used to in a pre-pandemic world.

Gyms are closed, group-exercise classes cannot operate, team sports are in hibernation and exercising on your own is simply not fun for many people, so they don’t do it.

Many of those who work from home are finding they’re stuck at their desks for 8-9 hours a day as bosses demand more effort. There’s no walking up the stairs in the office block or walking between buildings to meetings.

Sedentary lifestyle is a big health risk for many diseases

We’re sedentary, which medical experts have long told us is associated with health risks such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments likely to lead to a premature death. Put simply, the more active you are, the more likely it is that you will live to a ripe old age.

Now a new study by the MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas gives us even more reason to be worried about our overly sedentary lifestyles.

Researchers at the centre have found that inactive individuals have a massive 82% higher risk of dying from cancer when compared to the most active individuals in the same study.

Even modest exercise improves your survival chances

Even a relatively modest 10-30 minutes of light physical activity will be of benefit should you get cancer.

Researchers found that a light-intensity activity such as a half-hour of walking would reduce the likelihood of you dying from cancer by 8%. Doing 30 minutes of moderate activity such as cycling lowers the risk by 31%.

And if you’re willing to be even more active for longer periods then the risk reduces yet again.

First study to measure cancer and sedentary lifestyle impact

“This is the first study that definitively shows a strong association between not moving and cancer death,” said Dr Susan Gilchrist, Associate Professor of Clinical Cancer Prevention and lead author of the study.

“Our findings show that the amount of time a person spends sitting prior to a cancer diagnosis is predictive of time to cancer death.”

Gilchrist said conversations with her patients always begin with the question of why they don’t have time to exercise.

Stand up for five minutes every hour or take the stairs

“I tell them to consider standing up for five minutes every hour at work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It might not sound like a lot, but this study tells us even light activity has cancer survival benefits,” she explained.

The study involved just over 8,000 participants and the physical activity of each individual was measured by an accelerometer attached to their body for one week. This research phase took place between 2009 and 2013.  

The research team then had a five-year follow-up period to determine the subsequent health and mortality rate of the participants.

Reinforces importance of ‘sit less and move more’

“Our findings reinforce that it’s important to ‘sit less and move more’ and that incorporating 30 minutes of movement into your daily life can help reduce your risk of death from cancer,” Gilchrist said.

“Our next step is to investigate how objectively measured sedentary behaviour impacts site-specific cancer incidence and if gender and race play a role.”