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September 21, 2016 | 3 minute read

31 Million Americans Inactive, At Increased Cancer Risk

More than one in four Americans ages 50 and over are inactive outside of work, finds a new government report. Among the many health benefits of activity, AICR research shows that regular physical activity lowers risk of several cancers.

Over 1 in 4
Overall, 28 percent of adults — approximately 31 million people — ages 50 and over reported no physical activity outside of work during the past month.

Increasing age linked with more inactivity. Inactivity was reported among one quarter of adults ages 50 to 64, and by about a third of those ages 75 and older. Inactivity prevalence was significantly higher among women than men, and among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks than among non-Hispanic whites. Increasing body mass index also linked with increasing levels of inactivity. Inactivity here was defined as participating in no running, gardening, walking or other activites beyond those required at work.

By region, inactivity prevalence was highest in the South (at 30 percent) and lowest in the West (23 percent), even after adjusting for age and other demographic. Among the 50 states and DC, the prevalence ranged from 18 percent in Colorado to 30 percent in Arkansas

Activity, Inactivity and Cancer

For cancer, AICR research shows that physical activity links to lower risk of breast, endometrial and colorectal cancers. It also plays a role in weight management, an important part of cancer prevention. Excess body fat increases risk of 11 cancers. AICR recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-level daily physical activity to lower cancer risk.

The recommendations also include limiting sedentary activities. Too much sitting links to weight gain. Emerging research also suggests that inactivity, independent of exercise, plays a role in increasing cancer risk.

Physical activity may work to lower cancer risk by several mechanisms, including strengthening the immune system and keeping the digestive system healthy. Adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance are all ways in which inactivity may link to increased risk.

Overcoming Barriers

There are many reasons why adults might be physically inactive, the study authors write. Physical issues may play a role: Inactivity was higher among adults who reported having had one or more of seven selected chronic diseases, including cancer, than among those reporting none. However, according to government guidelines, older adults and adults with chronic diseases or disabilities should try to engage in physical activity as they are able.

Among those with a chronic disease, physical activity can help lessen their condition’s severity, manage the disease, or prevent or delay other chronic diseases. For example, among persons with arthritis, joint pain could be reduced through being more active; low impact activity is often recommended, says the report. For cancer survivors, guidelines encourage cancer survivors to avoid inactivity and aim to get the same amount of exercise the government recommends for the general populations, as they are able.

Other barriers, such as environmental and safety limitations, also can play a role in limiting activity.

“To help adults with and without chronic disease start or maintain an active lifestyle, communities can implement evidence-based strategies, such as creating or enhancing access to places for physical activity, designing communities and streets to encourage physical activity, and offering programs that address specific barriers to physical activity.” the study notes. Communities can be designed and enhanced to make it safer and easier for persons of all ages and abilities to be physically active.

Source: Watson KB, Carlson SA, Gunn JP, et al. Physical Inactivity Among Adults Aged 50 Years and Older — United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:954–958. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6536a3

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