A Sedentary Lifestyle Increases Your Risk for Cancer

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
September 06, 2017

Lack of exercise is linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes — and a sedentary lifestyle greatly ups your risk for bladder and kidney cancer.

Being a couch potato can not only make you flabby instead of fit, it can have potentially deadly consequences. It’s already well-known that a lack of regular physical activity is linked to heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes. And the American Cancer Society notes a chronically inactive life also raises the risk of breast, prostate, endometrial, and colon cancer.

Now there’s yet another reason to turn your sedentary lifestyle around by pursuing daily physical activity. Being a couch potato appears to dramatically increase kidney cancer and bladder cancer risk factors.


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A research team at Roswell Park Cancer Institute looked to see whether people with a long history of physical inactivity and lack of participation in any recreational exercise were more likely to develop kidney (renal) or bladder cancer. They studied 160 patients with kidney cancer and 208 with bladder cancer, comparing their history of physical activity to that of 766 people, matched in age to the cancer group, who were malignancy free.

The results of the analysis, published in Cancer Epidemiology, revealed a link between a typical sedentary lifestyle and both kidney cancer and bladder cancer risk factors — and the amount of the increased risk for both malignancies was remarkably high. The researchers found being chronically sedentary increased the risk of developing kidney cancer by 77 percent and upped the risk of bladder cancer by 73 percent.

There was another surprise, too. While being overweight or obese is a known risk factor for many health problems, the connection to kidney and bladder cancer appeared to be driven by physical inactivity, not weight. In fact, there was similar risk between both the obese and normal weight research subjects, depending on whether they were physically inactive or not, not their girth.

While larger studies are needed to back up these findings, the researchers concluded there’s a growing body of evidence that a lack of regular physical activity may be an important and independent risk factor for cancer.

 “We hope that findings like ours will motivate inactive people to engage in some form of physical activity,” said Kirsten Moysich, PhD, senior author of the study and distinguished professor of oncology in the departments of cancer prevention and control and immunology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

“You don’t have to run marathons to reduce your cancer risk, but you have to do something — even small adjustments like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking around the block a couple of times on your lunch hour, or parking the car far away from the store when you go to the supermarket,” she added.

While it is not clear exactly how a lack of regular physical exercise, as well as excess body fat, may trigger malignancies, the American Cancer Society says there is no question these factors are linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer and are a serious and growing health problem.

In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund estimates about 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to lifestyle factors, including physical inactivity, and could be prevented.

“Our findings underscore how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including getting and staying active,” said researcher Rikki Cannioto, PhD, EdD, Roswell Cancer Institute assistant professor of oncology. “The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes each week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes each week of vigorous physical activity as a way to generate significant, lasting health benefits.”


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March 30, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA