A lack of exercise and cancer. Are they linked?
The majority of Albertans do not get enough exercise, a fact that’s contributing to cases of cancer in the province, according to a new study, which finds that cancer rates for women are more impacted by physical inactivity than for men.
Part of a larger group of studies evaluating lifestyle and environmental causes of cancer in Alberta, researchers from Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine used data from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey to estimate the prevalence of physical inactivity among Albertans, looking at the nature, frequency and duration of leisure-time physical activity.
The results showed that between 59 and 75 per cent of men and 69 and 78 per cent of women in Alberta did not meet Canada’s physical activity recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Overall, the study found that 13.8 per cent of cancers were found to be attributable to inadequate physical activity. The proportion of cases attributable to physical inactivity were highest for lung cancer (18.1 to 21.2 per cent of cases) and endometrial cancer (19.3 to 22.0 per cent of cases). Other cancers found to be related to physical inactivity included ovarian cancer, breast cancer, colorectal and prostate cancer.
Significantly, a lack of physical activity was found to impact cancer rates among women in Alberta more than men, something the researchers say matches with results from other studies. “The overall cancer burden due to inadequate physical activity was much greater among women (9.1% of all cancers) than men (5.4% of all cancers),” say the study’s authors. “This sex difference was expected, as 3 of the cancer sites associated with inadequate physical activity are female specific (breast, endometrium and ovary).”
The researchers say their results should lead towards better healthcare strategies to get people more active. “With a high prevalence (> 70%) of suboptimal physical activity among adults in the province, developing targeted strategies to encourage people, particularly women and adults 50 years of age or older, to engage in sustained adequate physical activity could have great potential in reducing cancer burden in Alberta,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines specify that children and youth aged five to 17 years get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day and that adults get 150 minutes per week. Statistics from 2013 show that just over two in ten adults and only one in ten children and youth got the recommended amount. Health Canada says that physical activity is key to lower the risk for chronic health conditions and contributes to healthy development in children and youth.
A 2005 report found that Ontario, Alberta BC and Yukon had population rates of physical activity above the national average while the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Nunavut, manitoba and Saskatchewan were below the national average. In comparison with other G7 countries, however, Canadians fare well, as Canada was ranked second least inactive country for both youth and adult populations in a 2010 study.