The epidemic of sedentariness is a problem, being made all the more challenging with the advent of tablets and streaming movies that make it even easier to spend countless hours on the ol’ derriere. Studies have already linked this issue to higher rates of:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Heart disease
- Early mortality
Now the latest study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute claims that sitting for long periods of time could heighten a person’s risk for endometrial cancer and colon cancer. What’s even more shocking is that it appears that exercise does not mitigate the risk from sitting for long periods of time (exercise is regarded as one of the best ways to prevent cancer).
It would seem that there is a deep-rooted connection between too much sitting and these cancers that stands apart from lack of exercise.
More Time Sitting Could Mean Bad News
While conducting the study, the research team from the University of Regensburg decided to focus on the results obtained in 43 previous studies which had probed the connection between sitting and almost 70,000 different cases of cancer. Earlier teams had obtained extensive information on the respondents sedentary habits, such as time spent watching TV and sitting for work.
The Regensburg team utilized a specific statistical tool to uncover potential trends within the data— they got both good and bad news.
The good news was that being sedentary was not linked to every form of cancer. The research team found no connections to any of the following diseases:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Esophageal cancer
However, large amounts of sitting correlated with a higher risk for endometrial and colon cancer:
- Largely sedentary people had about a 24% higher risk for colon cancer
- Largely sedentary people had about a 32% higher risk for endometrial cancer
Even more shocking was the observed increase for just two hours of additional sitting time:
- + 8% for colon cancer
- +10% for endometrial cancer
The team also found that sitting while watching TV was linked to the greatest hike in risk:
- + 54% risk for colon cancer
- + 66% risk for endometrial cancer
Your Weight May Also be Putting You at Risk
Researchers theorize that a given person’s body weight plays a very important role here, since its not uncommon for people to snack on unhealthy foods while sitting in front of the tube. Additionally, excess weight has already been linked to higher risks for certain types of cancer.
“We found that TV viewing was associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon and the endometrium,” explained lead author Daniela Schmid. “We further observed that the results were independent of physical activity, showing that sedentary behavior represents a potential cancer risk factor distinct from physical inactivity.”
The findings showing that exercise didn’t seem to mitigate a person’s risk remain the most shocking. Even the most active couch potatoes are still at risk. The issue seems to be inherent when it comes to sitting. Luckily, we’ve gotten better at screening for diseases like colon cancer.
Active Couch Potatoes Still At Risk for Cancer
The new findings aren’t very surprising for people like Dr. Graham Colditz, the associate director for prevention and control at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.
“High blood sugar and high insulin is a clear sort of pathway to colon cancer, and we know from intervention studies that walking lowers insulin and getting up after meals lowers blood sugar compared to sitting,” explains Dr. Colditz.
(Quick Fact: Colditz was not involved in this cancer clinical study.)
“Obesity is a phenomenally strong cause. In fact, it is the main modifiable risk factor for endometrial cancer,” says Colditz. “So for me, the likely scenario there is that the sitting, the weight gain and obesity really go together and exacerbate the risk of endometrial cancer.”
Now before you decide to boycott any and all sitting, please take into account that this type of study does have its limitations. The reviews only took into account broader relationships. This study could not definitively prove that sitting on its own causes cancer. Colditz on the other hand believes that the consistency across studies means they should be taken seriously.
Daniela Schmid and her team concur.
“Cutting down on TV viewing and sedentary time is just as important as becoming more active,” explains Schmid. “For those whose jobs require them to sit at a desk most of the day, we recommend breaking up the time spent sitting by incorporating short bouts of light activity into the daily routine.