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Getting Up From Your Desk Can Put the "Breaks" on Cancer

The AICR Annual Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Physical Activity officially kicked off this morning in Washington with experts presenting startling new data. According to estimates, as many as 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer occurring in the U.S. every year can be linked to a lack of physical activity.

This comes from a new paper on physical activity and breast cancer prevention and reviewed the mounting evidence that a brisk daily walk helps to reduce several key biological indicators of cancer risk, including sex hormone levels, insulin resistance, inflammation and body fatness.

AICR already recommends getting at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily, but researchers also presented new findings from the emerging field of sedentary behavior, which is finding that sitting for long periods of time can increase some of those same indicators of cancer risk, even among people who exercise daily.

Based on these research findings, AICR is urging Americans to make time for physical activity and break every hour of sitting with 1 to 2 minutes of activity. These breaks can be as simple as walking to a colleague's office instead of sending an email or going to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

The Emerging Science of Sedentary Behavior

Neville Owen, PhD, Head of Behavioral Epidemiology at Australia's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, presented evidence that suggests sitting for long periods of time is associated with health risks – even for people who are regularly physically active.

"Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right. It seems highly likely that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. This phenomenon isn't dependent on body weight or how much exercise people do," said Dr. Owen.

Dr. Owen reported study findings showing that the majority of adults' days are spent sedentary. One accelerometer study found that 60 percent (9.3 hours) of subjects' waking day was spent sedentary, including meals, commutes and computer/television time, while another 35 percent (6.5 hours) was spent engaged in light activity such as walking to a meeting. Office workers can spend over 75 percent of their working hours sitting, with bouts of 30 minutes or more of unbroken sedentary time common. But recent evidence suggests that key indicators of cancer risk are lower when prolonged sitting is interrupted with brief (1-2 minute) breaks, said Dr. Owen.

Sedentary time is also likely an important factor for cancer survivors, said Dr. Owen. For survivors, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are particular concerns and overweight and obesity increases the risk for both conditions. "Television viewing time, a sign of sedentary behavior, appears to increase subsequent risk of weight gain in cancer survivors."

Practical Tips for Moving More

By now, we've all heard advice to "Take the stairs, not the elevator." it's certainly a good habit to get into, but there are many more ways to infuse your day at work with more activity:

  • Set the timer on your computer to remind you every 60 minutes that it's time to step away from your desk and take a short walk down the hall.
  • "Walk with me." Got a quick thing to discuss with a co-worker? Instead of sending an email, ask him or her to join you for a walk to hash it out on the go. The pedeconference: It's not just for TV characters anymore.
  • Keep light hand weights in your office to use while reading email or talking on the phone.
  • During all phone calls and phone meetings, stand up and walk around.
  • Your office or cubicle wall is all you need for simple activities like stretches, vertical push-ups and leg lifts.
  • For a more vigorous activity break, ask your employer to put a punching bag or chin-up bar in your break room.

Make Time Break Time
Download the full size infographic. (PDF)


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