Hours of Sitting: What’s Your Cancer Risk?

Get Regular Exercise

Get Regular Exercise

Most people spend the day sitting behind a desk. They commute home to relax, sit and watch TV, read a book or play computer games. Most Americans easily spend more than 8 hours of their day sitting.

And, sitting for several hours a day puts one’s health at risk – even if they exercise regularly. “Extended sitting raises your risk for colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. It also increases risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Luckily, reducing sitting time can be simple. “At least once an hour, get up and move. Stand while you’re on the phone or walk around the house during TV commercial breaks,” Basen-Engquist said. “A few minutes of light activity throughout the day can add up and help lower your cancer risks.”

Basen-Engquist shares more tips to reduce prolonged sitting.

Cut Back on Screen Time

Put down the remote. Research shows that for every hour of television a person watches after age 25, their life expectancy goes down by almost 22 minutes. But the real culprit isn’t the TV. It’s the time they spend sitting when they’re binge watching.

“Cut back on TV, video game and computer screen time, and you’ll be more likely to engage in active behavior,” Basen-Engquist said. Choose an active-play video game that’ll boost the heart rate or watch a favorite show while riding an exercise bike.

Choose an Active Leisure Activity

“Relax with an activity that doesn’t require sitting,” Basen-Engquist said. “Take a fun dance class, work in the garden or walk around the neighborhood. You’ll burn about 140 extra calories per day to help you maintain a healthy weight.”

Use Technology

Most email providers will allow people to schedule an alert to remind themselves to move every hour. There’s an app for everything, including ones that remind people to take a get-up-and-move break. Some apps also provide tools to track physical activity. Then, they use charts and graphs to display activity over time.

Knowing the steps taken, or not taken, during the day can be useful. Basen-Engquist uses a pedometer and tries to get at least 500 steps an hour.

Build Activity Into the Day

“Even short spurts of moderate to vigorous physical activity can get your heart pumping and improve your health,” Basen-Engquist said. “So, build activity into the day.”

Park at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs or walk while on the phone. Tidying the house also can limit couch time.

Reduce Sitting at Work

Most adults sit at their job, but there are simple ways to move more without them disrupting their work. Have a walking meeting, stand during seminars or perform desk exercises. Ask co-workers to join in taking laps around the office during lunch.

Change the work environment. Office equipment, like standing and treadmill desks, are gaining popularity. “Working from an upright position uses more muscles, expends more energy and burns more calories than sitting,” Basen-Engquist said.

Get Regular Exercise

Cutting back on sitting time is good for one’s health. But regular exercise is still needed to further reduce cancer risks. Aim for two and a half hours of moderate physical activity or an hour and a half of vigorous physical activity each week.

For additional tips on health and exercise, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.