Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Physical Activity

SUBTRACT bad habits that encourage long stretches of inactivity.

When AICR experts examined the research, they concluded that getting regular physical activity was key to avoiding the buildup of excess body fat and the increase in cancer risk it brings with it.

But they went a step further. They specifically recommended limiting sedentary habits such as watching television.

In today’s society, that’s easier said than done. Most of us are inactive for most of the day, between sitting at our desks, driving in our cars and relaxing on our couches in front of the TV.

Here’s some help in dialing back TV time and breaking yourself of bad habits that put you at increased risk for cancer.

TV + Inactivity = Higher Cancer Risk

We know that being a “couch potato” isn’t healthy, and research is actually starting to find many reasons why.

Body Fat

In 2007, AICR experts reviewed the research and reported that "sedentary living" is convincingly linked to weight gain, and that watching TV is itself probably linked to weight gain. Why is that important? Because once people become overweight, at any age, they open the door to several kinds of cancer and other chronic diseases.

  • In a study of 26 to 36-year-olds, those watching more than three hours of TV daily were more likely to have excess waist fat than those watching an hour or less.
  • The same went for middle-aged adults who watched more than four hours of TV daily. Their waists averaged more than an inch larger than those watching less than two hours daily; their percent body fat and body mass index were also higher.
  • In children 2 to 5 years old, a national survey found, higher weight was 34 percent more common among those who watched more than two hours of television daily.

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How does this pose a risk?

The more fat you have around the waist, the more hormones and inflammation-causing proteins are pumped continuously into your bloodstream. This may play a role in the cancer process.


Gaining weight is one problem, but missing out on the benefits of physical activity brings on others.

Daily exercise benefits your muscles, eyesight, brain and heart. It may also lower inflammation and hormone levels that extra fat can generate and that are linked to higher risk for cancer.

Hypnotically watching TV is even less active than other sedentary pastimes like reading, writing, sewing or playing board games, studies say. Scientists have found that watching television induces low alpha waves in the human brain, associated with suggestibility.

Even switching to reading a magazine moved a person’s brainwaves from alpha to beta brainwaves associated with active, logical thought.

And that could be why TV also encourages…

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Eating in front of the TV distracts us from being aware of what and how much we’re eating. So we’re more likely to continue eating without noticing we’re full.

And we’re not exactly munching on fruits and vegetables. Studies found:

  • Dinner in front of the TV is less likely to include vegetables and fruits;
  • More frequent, high-calorie snacking while watching;
  • More awareness of advertising for things like pizzas dripping with cheese that can be immediately delivered to your door;
  • Even commercial-free TV increases calorie consumption.

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The Big Picture

It’s a good idea to keep TV watching to not much more than an hour a day. Like a buffet meal, choose a moderate amount of only what you really want to watch before you start.

You also could try lifting some hand-held weights, doing some situps or doing short house-cleaning tasks during commercials. If it’s a movie, pause it after every few scenes to get up and move around.

But above all, balance TV watching with eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day for lower cancer risk.

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