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Sedentary behavior increases cancer risk

What you may have heard

Low levels of physical activity are linked to increased risk of several types of cancer (NCI).

What science tells us

We know less about the relationship between sedentary behavior (long amounts of sitting or laying down) and cancer risk, but recent research suggests that sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for cancer risk and mortality.

Epidemiological Evidence

A review of 18 epidemiological studies of sedentary behavior and cancer risk found that there were statistically significant relationships between sedentary behavior and cancer outcomes (Lynch et al). People who spend a higher amount of time sitting or reclining have increased colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, and prostate cancer risk. In addition, sedentary behavior is associated with increased cancer death in women. These results were confirmed in a 2020 cohort of 8,002 black and white adults: Sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for cancer risk and mortality.

Laboratory Evidence/ Supportive Evidence

Laboratory evidence using animal models to examine the relationship between exercise and cancer development have focused on the reduction of cancer risk with exercise, which is shown to be effective. More research is needed examining sedentary or low activity in animal models and the development of cancer.

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Not classified

How to reduce your risk

Recommendations to decrease your risk of weight gain, obesity and several types of cancers include: 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly, 75-100 minutes of vigorous cardio weekly, and muscle-strengthening training at least two days a week (CDC).

Bottom line

Sedentary behavior increases cancer risk and mortality. Decrease your risk of cancer by doing at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Lynch et al.: Sedentary behavior and cancer
Gilcrist et al.: Sedentary behavior and cancer mortality
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Sedentary behavior


November 2, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022