In the first study to look at objective measures of sedentary behaviour and cancer mortality, researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre found that greater inactivity was independently associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer. The most sedentary individuals had an 82% higher risk of cancer mortality compared to the least sedentary individuals. An accelerometer was used to measure physical activity, rather than relying on participants to self-report their activity levels
“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.”
Researchers also found that replacing 30 minutes of sedentary time with physical activity was associated with a 31% lower risk of cancer death for moderate-intensity activity, such as cycling, and an 8% lower risk of cancer death for light-intensity activity, such as walking.
“Conversations with my patients always begin with why they don’t have time to exercise,” said Gilchrist, who leads MD Anderson’s Healthy Heart Programme. “I tell them to consider standing up for 5 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.” This study involved a cohort of participants from the nationally representative REGARDS study, which recruited more than 30,000 US adults over the age of 45 between 2003 and 2007 to study long-term health outcomes.
To measure sedentary behaviour, 8,002 REGARDS participants who did not have a cancer diagnosis at study enrolment wore an accelerometer on their hip during waking hours for seven consecutive days. The accelerometer data was gathered between 2009 and 2013. After a mean follow-up of 5 years, 268 participants died of cancer. Longer duration of sedentary behaviour was independently associated with a greater risk of cancer death.
The study also found that engaging in either light or moderate to vigorous physical activity made a difference. Investigators assessed sedentary time, light-intensity physical activity (LIPA) and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in the same model and found that LIPA and MVPA, not sedentary behaviour, remained significantly associated with cancer mortality.
“From a practical perspective, this means that individuals who replaced either 10 to 30 minutes of sedentary time with either LIPA or MVPA had a lower risk of cancer mortality in the REGARDS cohort,” Gilchrist said.
The study had several limitations, including a potentially healthier participant sample compared to the full REGARDS cohort and a lack of site-specific cancer data, including type of tumour and treatment.
“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.”
Importance: Sedentary behavior is associated with several health outcomes, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. Less is known about the association between objectively measured sedentary behavior and cancer mortality, as well as the association with physical activity.
Objective: To examine the association between accelerometer-measured sedentary behavior (total volume and accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts) and cancer mortality.
Design, Setting, and Participants: A prospective cohort study conducted in the contiguous US included 8002 black and white adults aged 45 years or older enrolled in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. The present analysis was performed from April 18, 2019, to April 21, 2020.
Exposures: Sedentary time, light-intensity physical activity (LIPA), and moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) were measured using a hip-mounted accelerometer worn for 7 consecutive days.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Cancer mortality.
Results: Of the 8002 study participants, 3668 were men (45.8%); mean (SD) age was 69.8 (8.5) years. Over a mean (SD) follow-up of 5.3 (1.5) years, 268 participants (3.3%) died of cancer. In multivariable-adjusted models, including MVPA, greater total sedentary time was associated with a greater risk of cancer mortality (tertile 2 vs tertile 1: hazard ratio [HR], 1.45; 95% CI, 1.00-2.11; tertile 3 vs tertile 1: HR, 1.52; 95% CI, 1.01-2.27). Longer sedentary bout duration was not significantly associated with greater cancer mortality risk: after adjustment for MVPA (tertile 2 vs tertile 1: HR, 1.26; 95% CI, 0.90-1.78; tertile 3 vs tertile 1: HR, 1.36; 95% CI, 0.96-1.93). Replacing 30 minutes of sedentary time with LIPA was significantly associated with an 8% (per 30 minutes: HR, 0.92; 95% CI, 0.86-0.97) lower risk of cancer mortality; MVPA was significantly associated with a 31% (per 30 minutes: HR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.48-0.97) lower risk of cancer mortality.
Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, greater sedentary time, as measured with accelerometry, appeared to be independently associated with cancer mortality risk. Replacing sedentary time with either LIPA or MVPA may be associated with a lower risk of cancer mortality. These findings suggest that the total volume of sedentary behavior is a potential cancer mortality risk factor and support the public health message that adults should sit less and move more to promote longevity.
Susan C Gilchrist; Virginia J Howard; Tomi Akinyemiju; Suzanne E Judd; Mary Cushman; Steven P Hooker; Keith M Diaz
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre material
JAMA Oncology abstract