The mainstream likes to blame cancer on all its favorite targets—such as fat, red meat, and alcohol. But the science shows that none of those factors amount to a hill of beans.
Instead, most of the biggest risk factors for cancer are out of our control—including increasing age, family history, and hormonal factors, like when a woman started her period or her age at menopause.
However, there are still things you can do to reduce your risk…
For example, last week, I told you about an interesting study that found women can cut their breast cancer risk by avoiding light exposure at nighttime. And today, I’m going to talk about something you’re probably already doing that can cut your cancer risk by up to 31 percent.
So, let’s jump right in…
Light physical activity reduces cancer risk
For this new study, researchers followed just over 8,000 men and women with an average age of 70 years. They were all cancer-free at the study’s outset and agreed to wear “fitness trackers” during waking hours over a three-year period.
The researchers collected the data and sorted the participants’ activity into two categories. “Light activity” included cooking, light gardening, housework, and shopping. “Moderate-to-vigorous activity” included dancing, heavy gardening, running, digging, and walking.
Over the next five years, 268 participants died of cancer. And, as you might expect, the most-sedentary men and women were 82 percent more likely to die from cancer than their more-active peers.
Of course, other factors can contribute to cancer risk. But even after adjusting for all of those confounding factors, the most-sedentary people were still 52 percent more likely to die from cancer than their more-active peers.
Plus, there was a “dose-response” effect. Specifically, for each hour a person spent being sedentary, their cancer risk increased by 16 percent.
However, when they replaced just 30 minutes of sitting each day with 30 minutes of “light activity,” their cancer risk decreased by 8 percent. And when they replaced this sedentary time with “moderate-to-vigorous” activity, their cancer risk decreased by an impressive 31 percent.
The law of diminishing returns applies to exercise and cancer risk
Researchers said they were “surprised” that even light exercise, such as a short, daily walk, offered such strong protection against cancer. Indeed, modern medical experts seem to assume, “if some is good, more must always be better.”
But that’s just not how human biology and physiology work.
In fact, scientific studies consistently show that engaging in light-to-moderate exercise totaling just 140 minutes a week is the optimal amount for improving your overall health and longevity. And exercising beyond 140 total minutes per week has diminishing benefits and increasing risks, especially as you get older.
Meanwhile, theories abound as to why sedentary behavior increases cancer risk and why exercise reduces it. But it’s just common sense to me…
Exercise gets the blood flowing and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract moving, which helps clear out toxins and improves the nourishment of tissues. And at the cellular level, moderate exercise benefits metabolism and reduces chronic inflammation, which can certainly play a role in the development of cancer (as well as other chronic diseases).
President Harry Truman often took daily, “constitutional” walks around the White House and back home in Independence, Missouri, as did many folks in my grandparents’ generations, in the morning or after dinner. As President, Truman was rarely ill and lived to a ripe, old age in retirement.
I’ve always thought that kind of sensible, physical activity is especially beneficial for older folks with chronic disease, who may find it difficult or impossible to follow intensive exercise regimens—even in the best of times. And now, we have more solid science to help explain why these folks lived such long, disease-free lives.
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“Association of Sedentary Behavior With Cancer Mortality in Middle-aged and Older US Adults.” JAMA Oncol. 2020;6(8):1210-1217. doi.org/10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2045