Most People Don’t Know This Not Getting Enough Exercise Ups Your Cancer Risk

April 11, 2019

Too little exercise is linked to an increased risk of cancer – but most people in the U.S. don’t know that, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers found that only about 3 percent of adults surveyed were aware that low levels of physical activity may raise cancer risk, according to the findings, published today (Aug. 9) in the journal Health Communications.

The findings are troubling because people who don’t know this link tend to be less motivated to engage in physical activity, said lead study author Erica Waters, an associate professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

For the study, researchers surveyed about 360 adults in the U.S., and the average age of the study participants was 47. In the survey, participants were asked to name three diseases caused by failing to get enough physical activity; however, only 44 percent of the participants provided three responses to this open-ended question.

The results showed that about 66 percent of the adults in the study correctly identified metabolic conditions, such as being overweight or having diabetes, as being associated with getting too little exercise. In addition, 64 percent of respondents correctly identified cardiovascular problems and 11 percent identified musculoskeletal problems, such as back problems, osteoporosis or muscle loss. And 8 percent identified psychological complaints, such as depression or stress, as a consequence of not getting enough exercise.

However, only about 3% listed cancer as the answer to their problem.

Limited awareness of cancer
Waters told Live Science that physical activity not only reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, helps a person lose weight, but can also help reduce cancer risk and generally benefit overall health.

It’s not entirely clear why people don’t make the connection between physical inactivity and increased cancer risk. But Waters suggests the explanation is mainly lack of awareness.

Public health efforts have done a good job of communicating the link between low levels of physical activity and heart disease, diabetes and being overweight, but little attention has been focused on the risk of cancer, Waters said. She adds that when people exercise, it’s very clear that they their hearts pump faster, they breathe harder and they can move more from one to the other – all of which are obvious benefits to help them understand the impact of physical activity on their health.

But the biological link between not getting enough exercise and developing cancer is often less obvious to people, Waters said.

Current recommendations suggest that people in the United States . get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or biking, per week to reduce their cancer risk, Waters said. There’s plenty of scientific evidence that higher levels of physical activity areassociated with lower levels of specific cancers, including colon, breast and endometrial cancers, with those lower levels of physical activity, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One limitation of the study, the researchers ssaid, is that the survey asked participants which “diseases” might be caused by inadequate physical activity; responses might have been different if the question had used the word “disease” instead.