How sedentary behaviour increases your risk of cancer

Our recommendation

Sit less. Plan your day to take frequent, short breaks from sitting. Being active decreases your risk of cancer, but sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor. Even if you exercise 30 minutes or more every day, if you’re sedentary for most of your days, you are still at an increased risk for cancer.

A day in the life of 2 people with sedentary jobs

Which one is most like yours? If you’re like the average Canadian, you sit for most of the day. A growing body of evidence supports a link between sedentary behaviour and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The longer a person sits, the higher the risk.

"But I exercise regularly. I must have a lower risk of cancer even though I sit all day in my job."

Infographic of two people and their activity levels throughout a day
Infographic illustrates three types of activity: sedentary, standing break, and moderate or vigorous. Sedentary activities are shown in red, standing breaks are shown in yellow, and moderate or vigorous activity is shown in green. The first person’s day begins with a car (red), then sitting at a desk (red) four times in a row, then a car (red), then watching television (red). This day is shown as higher risk. The second person’s day begins with walking (green), then sitting at a desk (red), then standing (yellow), then cycling (green), then working at a standing desk (yellow), then walking (green), then walking a dog (green). This day is shown as lower risk.
An illustration of a person sitting on a chair

It’s shocking how many hours a day Canadians sit

Yikes! It's true – each day, Canadian adults spend almost 10 hours, approximately 60%, of their waking time being sedentary.

An illustration of a person sitting on a chair
What is sedentary behaviour?

Being sedentary refers to activities that need very little physical movement and don't use much energy, such as sitting or lying down for long periods of time. Sedentary behaviour is different than not getting enough exercise.

What are common sedentary activities?

We're spending more and more time on screens – TVs, smartphones, tablets and computers. And when we're texting, watching videos, playing online games, hanging out on the Internet or sharing on social media, we're usually sitting.

We also spend more and more time in our cars and on public transit. And with the rise in technology, many of us spend our days sitting at work as well.

Why is sedentary behaviour bad?

Researchers recognize sedentary behaviour as a health risk since it can lead to weight gain. Obesity is a risk factor for at least 11 types of cancer.

Tips to help you sit less

Take frequent, short breaks from sitting. Standing or moving for 2 to 3 minutes is beneficial. Simple muscle movements are great for the body!

Walk around while you're talking on the phone.

Take standing and stretching breaks during meetings.

Stand, rather than sit, on the sidelines while watching recreational games.

Visit your co-worker to discuss issues instead of phoning or emailing.

Use a standing desk, if one is available.

Replace screen time with social time.