Physical Activity and Reduced Sitting Linked to Improved Health in Older Adults Regardless of Cancer History

October 28, 2020
Jessica Skarzynski

A study assessing the value of movement found that it improved physical and mental health in older adults who had survived cancer, as well as those with no history of the disease.

Older adults who engage in higher levels of physical activity and spend less time sitting have better overall physical and mental health regardless of whether they have had cancer, according to recent study results published in the journal Cancer.

Thanks to advances in treatment, cancer survival rates have steadily increased in recent years. According to the Department of Population Science, there were more than 16.9 million survivors in the U.S. in 2018, two-thirds of whom were age 65 or older. This extended survival has led to an increased interest in improving the quality of life of these older survivors, prompting investigators to examine how moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sitting time correlate to quality of life in cancer survivors compared with their cancer-free counterparts.

To do so, American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers, led by Dr. Erika Rees-Punia, evaluated the self-reported aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity levels, sitting time and mental health of nearly 78,000 individuals who participated in the ACS Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

The participants were then broken into three groups: survivors who were one to five years post-diagnosis (3,718), survivors six to 10 years after diagnosis (4,248) and those who had no cancer history (69,860).

Participants completed surveys pertaining to MVPA and their daily sitting time, as well as Patient‐Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Global Mental Health (GMH)/Global Physical Health (GPH) surveys. Those that reported participating in more MVPA had higher GMH and GPH scores, and ultimately, investigators found the differences in mental and physical health between those who were the least and most active to be clinically meaningful, regardless of cancer history.

“These findings provide evidence of the importance of increasing MVPA and decreasing sitting time as a reasonable strategy with which to improve quality of life in older men and women with or without a prior cancer diagnosis,” the authors wrote.

Investigators did note that further research is needed to determine causality, as they were unable to rule out the possibility that cancer-related and age-related quality of life may influence physical-activity and sitting-time survey responses. But they did conclude that it remains important to pay attention to levels of physical activity and limit the time spent sitting down each day, regardless of age or health status.

“The findings reinforce the importance of moving more and sitting less for both physical and mental health, no matter your age or history of cancer,” Rees-Punia said in a press release about the study. “This is especially relevant now as so many of us, particularly cancer survivors, may be staying home to avoid COVID-19 exposure, and may be feeling a little isolated or down. A simple walk or other physical activity that you enjoy may be good for your mind and body.”

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