Women in exercise class

Most Americans are familiar with the “Let’s Move!” initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010. “Let’s Move!” is an orchestrated attempt to get kids to be more physically active and make healthy food choices so they’ll be healthy kids today and healthy adults tomorrow.

Use It or Lose It

The connection between health, good food, and physical exercise doesn’t end with childhood but all too often the demands of work and family get in the way of regular physical workouts. Tired adults just like to sit and relax some of the time. The “use it or lose it” admonition doesn’t bear much weight when the time is tight and the body and mind are exhausted.

Get Up & Move

A new study from the American Cancer Society, however, might offer the incentive to find something other than sitting to do when precious moments of leisure come our way. It revealed an increased risk of cancer for women who spend lots of their leisurely moments sitting down. The risk for breast, ovarian, and myeloma (bone) cancers was especially strong.

Furthermore, the increased risk of cancer of any kind was more strongly associated with women than with men. No increased cancer risk was discovered in men who spend leisure time sitting.

The research team, led by Dr. Alpa Patel, involved analysis of data collected during the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort during which 77,462 women and 66,260 men were enrolled. Every person participating in the study was free of cancer at the time of enrollment. Their cancer status was monitored from 1992 through 2009.

The increased risk of cancers affecting women was specifically linked to sitting, not to merely getting too little physical activity in general. Leisure-time sitting was defined as:

  • Less than 3 hours a day or
  • More than 6 hours a day

During the course of study, cancer was diagnosed in:

  • 12,236 women
  • 18,555 men

There was no link between men’s leisure-time sitting and cancer development but longer sitting time increased the risk of cancer in general and site-specific cancers, especially cancers of the bone, breast, and ovaries, by as much as 10% for women.

Ease More Activity into the Day

It may not be necessary to dive head first into a full-blown, vigorous exercise regimen to keep cancer risk low. Gently add some physical activity to leisure time by:

  • Watching a favorite TV show or the evening news on a stationary exercise cycle.
  • Reading a book or magazine on the stationary cycle or treadmill.
  • Watering the garden or lawn by hand instead of by sprinkler.
  • Parking farther from the entrance to work, shopping, and other routine destinations.
  • Tagging along when the kids walk the dog.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 hours of moderate activity a week for everyone between 18 and 64. Thirty minutes a day five days a week meets that goal but smaller bursts of activity do, too.

Consider taking a 10-minute walk after breakfast, before lunch, and in the cool of the evening. It all adds up while knocking down the risk of cancer.


  1. "Study Links Leisure Time Sitting to Higher Risk of Specific Cancers." American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 13 July 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
  2. Patel, Alpa V., et al. "Leisure-time spent sitting and site-specific cancer incidence in a large US cohort." Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (2015). Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
  3. "Physical Activity Basics: How much physical activity do you need?" CDC / Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. US Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.