The word alone can ignite a primitive fear living inside us. It is estimated that in 2017 alone, 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. But increasingly, scientists have found that people can take action to reduce their risk of getting that diagnosis.
In a recent study, researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), in Buffalo, N.Y., investigated whether there is a link between living a mostly sedentary lifestyle and being diagnosed with certain cancers later in life.
Researchers studied a total of 368 people who were diagnosed with renal (kidney) or bladder cancer. The subjects’ lifetime recreational physical inactivity levels were compared with those of a 766-person cancer-free control group.
All the people had received medical care at RPCI.
Those considered physically inactive reported at least 20 years of no regular physical activity immediately prior to enrolling in the study.
‘It’s never too late’
The study published in the Cancer Epidemiology medical journal suggests a significant association between living a life with little to no recreational physical activity and an increased risk for bladder and renal cancers.
The researchers found that the risk association was so strong it held even in study subjects who were obese.
Kirsten Moysich, PhD, MS, one of the study’s authors and a Distinguished Professor of Oncology in the Departments of Cancer Prevention and Immunology at RPCI, explained to Healthline how this study bolsters advice to be active.
“The main takeaway from our research is that we can add reduced risk of many cancers to the long list of health benefits from staying active,” Moysich said. “Other studies suggest that starting at younger ages is a good way to make fitness part of your lifestyle and a lifelong habit, but it's never too late to start.”
Taking steps to make sure you don’t have an increased cancer risk doesn’t mean you have to start training for a marathon.
“It’s important to do some exercise or engage in moderate physical activity regularly, and there are all kinds of ways to work that into your life,” Moysich said.
To be clear, the authors were studying the risks associated with being inactive over a long period of time. They have evidence that being inactive is associated with increased cancer risk for renal and bladder cancers. However, it’s not definitive if being active provides any sort of protective benefit against developing cancer.
Women have additional reason to exercise
Other studies by researchers at RPCI suggest that in addition to bladder and renal cancers, lack of exercise may increase the risk for other cancers specific to women.
Another study found that even minimal exercise, such as walking 30 minutes per week, can drastically reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.
While ovarian cancer represents 1.3 percent of all new cancer diagnoses, cervical cancer causes 0.7 percent of all cancer deaths. The five-year survival rate for women with cervical cancer is 67.1 percent — about the same as for bladder and renal cancers. The ovarian cancer survival rate is a much lower 46.5 percent.
Take control of risk
These recent studies show there are actions we can take to keep our risk levels from increasing. Exercising regularly is also a way to help limit our risk of being diagnosed with other conditions, including:
Drop and give me 20
Despite the large body of evidence showing the positive effects of exercise, why is it so hard for people to stick with their exercise routines?
Healthline posed that question to Meghan Kennihan, a National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer and RRCA/USATF run coach outside of Chicago, Ill. Kennihan offered the following helpful suggestions to Healthline readers just starting out on their journeys to achieving physical fitness.
- Don't be too hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect. Allow yourself to have realistic expectations.
- Skip the “all or nothing” mindset. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Starting is EVERYTHING.
- Create a habit. Personal fitness should become a habit, like good sleep hygiene and healthy eating.
- Have patience. Allow at least 21 days for your new routine to become a habit.
- Start small. Start with something that’s easy for you to do consistently. Park farther out in the lot. Walk the dog an extra block. Limit your workouts to just one or two days per week. Then, when it feels right, add a day, or a new exercise.
- Make it fun. Choose an activity that you genuinely enjoy doing — something that makes you feel good about yourself.
- Join a group or take a class. As you gain confidence, it sometimes helps to have others with whom you can work out, compete against, or cheer with.
- Use technology. Some people need to be able to see and measure their progress. If that’s you, there are many ways to do this. Help comes in the form of apps, workout calendars, websites, and more. Experiment until you find one that works for you.
Aye aye, Captain!
For better or worse, when it comes to our health, we’re each the captain of our own ship. We need to move in order to shake off the dust. Doing nothing sets the stage for infiltration by a host of physical ailments and diseases.
Researchers are showing how a lifetime of physical inactivity can increase our risk of certain cancers. And we now understand that we have the ability to keep our risk of diseases from climbing.
Make yourself a promise to put yourself in charge of your health — no matter if you start with a 5-mile run or a short, enjoyable walk around the block.
And remember, talk with your doctor before starting any new physical fitness routine.