Physical activity extends lives, reduces cancer risk

April 29, 2013

We all know physical activity is good for you and makes you feel better. New research now suggests even more reasons to stay active and keep moving.

Even mild physical activity is associated with longer life expectancy, regardless of body weight. According to a recent study funded by the National Cancer Institute, people who engaged in leisure time physical activity had life expectancy gains of as much as 4.5 years.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Dr. Marcia Ory

“Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for yourself to stay healthy,” says Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health and a leading researcher in cancer survivorship and aging. “Yet, today only about 31 percent of U.S. adults say they engage in any kind of regular physical activity.”

According to Dr. Ory, a person who gets up in the morning and spends 30 minutes on the treadmill or walking in the neighborhood feels pretty good – and he or she should. But what happens during the other 15 hours or so the person is awake? Most Americans are sitting in a car, a desk or at home, resulting in their being active only 3 percent of the day. By thinking about being active the other 97 percent, that person can reduce cancer and other chronic disease risks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults ages 18-64 engage in regular aerobic physical activity for 2.5 hours at moderate intensity – or 1.25 hours at vigorous intensity – each week. Moderate activities include brisk walking, gardening or housework. Vigorous activities include running, fast dancing or lifting heavy loads.

Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, chair of the Cancer Alliance of Texas and affiliate of the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network, reports from her vast review of research that “being more active has been proven to not only reduce cancer risks but also improve the health and quality of life of cancer survivors.”

When it comes to practical tips for moving more, we’ve all heard to “take the stairs, not the elevator.” According to Dr. Ory, it’s still good advice, but there are many more ways to get physically active breaks in your day:

  • “Buzz me active” Set a timer on your phone or your computer to remind you every 40-60 minutes that it’s time to stand up, stretch and take a brief walk, outside if possible.
  • “Walk with me” Need to have a quick chat with a family member or a co-worker? Instead of sending a text or an email, suggest going for a walk.
  • “Stand to talk” Standing desks are great, but if you don’t have one, you can always stand up every time you answer the phone. If the cord is long enough or you have a speakerphone, you can walk around, do deep knee bends and stretch while talking on the phone.
  • “Stay Webinar Fit” Hour-long webinars are great times for stretch breaks. You can attend to business while stretching or using weights. Keep a flexibility stretch band or a pair of hand weights at your desk for use during webinars and long conference calls.
  • “Park to walk” When you are shopping or at an off-site meeting, park your car at the furthest edge of the lot. Enjoy the opportunity for an outdoor physical activity break.


“Think of exercise as medicine,” Dr. Ory says. “Regular exercise can reduce the need for medications and costly health care treatments. There are many different types of exercise, chose one that you enjoy – this will help you stay active for life.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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