Even if you exercise a little every day, spending the rest of your time sitting may sabotage the positive effects of your morning run or evening walk. Findings from the emerging field of “sedentary behavior research” suggest that the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise may not be enough physical activity for continued good health. Data presented at the November meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research indicate that sedentary living is linked to 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer in the U.S. and that regular exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 35 percent and of breast cancer by 25 percent. Researchers also stressed the importance of enhancing a daily exercise routine by taking hourly breaks from your desk - one or two minutes per hour - even if you do nothing more strenuous than walk to the restroom or across the hall to talk to a co-worker. Other data presented at the meeting suggested that exercise can lower biomarkers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein. Inflammation continues to be investigated as a risk factor in cancer, and decreasing it as a mechanism by which exercise helps reduce cancer risk.
My take? We have good evidence that regular exercise can help protect against breast cancer, and it makes sense that risks of developing other types of cancer could be linked to lack of physical activity. Our bodies evolved in very demanding environments and are meant to be used. If not, they deteriorate faster than they should. Many of the illnesses that plague our society result from sedentary behaviors. Clearly the prevalence of heart and artery disease correlates as much with lack of aerobic exercise as it does with unhealthy diets. I’m not sure that a two-minute break every hour is the answer to spending all day seated at a desk, but I am in favor of anything that increases the motivation to get you up and moving regularly.