Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 September 2020

Sitting all day can raise your risk of cancer, but new study proves one small lifestyle tweak can help

The research published this week showed a strong association with being sedentary and cancer death

Sitting at a desk or on the couch all day can increase our risk of getting cancer. Unsplash
Sitting at a desk or on the couch all day can increase our risk of getting cancer. Unsplash

It's something many of us have heard before: sitting too much can kill us. But a new study that was published on Thursday is the first to definitively show a strong association between not moving and cancer death.

That being said, the research also proved that with one small lifestyle tweak we can reduce our risk of getting cancer by up to 31 per cent.

Our findings reinforce that it's important to 'sit less and move more'

Dr Susan Gilchrist

All we have to do is move for an extra 30 minutes a day.

"Our findings reinforce that it's important to 'sit less and move more'," said lead author Dr Susan Gilchrist, an associate professor of clinical cancer prevention at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas.

That doesn't mean working an intense HIIT routine or any vigorous cardio into your day, however. It can be as simple as taking a half-hour stroll on your lunch break, walking while you talk during meetings or frequently taking the stairs.

Walking during meetings could help reduce your risk of cancer death. Unsplash
Walking during meetings could help reduce your risk of cancer death. Unsplash

"Conversations with my patients always begin with why they don’t have time to exercise," Gilchrist said. "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."

The study was published in the monthly medical journal Jama Oncology on Thursday, June 18.

It tracked the movements of 8,000 people over the course of a week between 2009 and 2013. After five years, researchers found those who were most inactive were 82 per cent more likely to have died from cancer when compared to the least sedentary people. This result remained the same even when they adjusted the results to consider age, sex and disease.

However, anyone who replaced 30 minutes of sitting with some light exercise – such as walking – reduced their risk of getting cancer by eight per cent.

Those who incorporated an extra half-hour of moderate activity – more of a brisk walk or bike ride at less than 16 kilometres per hour, for example – reduced their risk by 31 per cent.

A 30-minute bike ride at about 16 kilometres an hour could help reduce risk of cancer by 31 per cent. Unsplash
A 30-minute bike ride at about 16 kilometres an hour could help reduce risk of cancer by 31 per cent. Unsplash

It's no secret that healthy lifestyle choices, from diet to exercise, can help decrease our risk of getting cancer. Previous research has shown more than 50 per cent of cancer-related deaths can be prevented in such a way.

But while most of us have heard that sitting around all day has been linked to cancer deaths in the past, this has mostly been based on studies that relied on participants reporting their own behaviour, as opposed to any objective data.

This new study fills that gap in the research.

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

Updated: June 21, 2020 11:31 AM

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