Let’s talk about sedentary behaviour… and cancer prevention

25 Aug 2020

Leading a sedentary lifestyle and being physically inactive seem to be the same thing, but there is a difference. Sedentary refers to sitting or lying down for long periods (but not sleeping). Many people meet the physical activity guidelines and are still considered sedentary. We know that physical inactivity is linked to an estimated 135,000 deaths from cancer and over 3 million deaths from all diseases each year, but calculating mortality from sedentary behaviour is less clear. One study indicates that the most sedentary individuals had an 82% higher risk of cancer mortality than the least sedentary.


Here’s what we know:

  1. Generally, Australians are not moving enough. Around 30% of the adult population reported more than 5 hours of sedentary leisure activity each day. 60% of Australian adults do less than 30 minutes of exercise per day.
  2. On average, Australians sit for 10-22 hours at work and spend 13-19 hours watching media per week.
  3. Sedentary behaviour is linked to weight gain. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for several major cancers including stomach, bowel, oesophageal, pancreatic, gallbladder, post-menopausal breast, endometrial, kidney, liver and prostate (advanced) cancers.
  4. The heart, cardiovascular system and bowel function more efficiently when humans are upright. Also, sitting causes muscles to shorten, leading to problems with joints such as hip joints.



  • You can still lead a sedentary lifestyle even if you are reaching the recommended 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day.
  • More research is needed to determine how much lying or sitting is too much, however it is clear that any extended sedentary behaviour can be harmful. Most experts advise moving every 30-60 minutes.
  • It’s easy to forget to move while you’re working at a desk. Try these tips to reduce your risk of weight gain and cancer:
    • set a timer to remind you to move
    • spend 2 minutes stretching every hour
    • take meetings standing up or suggest a walking meeting
    • walk around while on the phone instead of sitting
    • go for a walk in your lunch break
    • take the stairs instead of the lift
    • use a sit/stand desk
    • walk part of the way to work
    • set yourself a time limit on screen time.


Find out more about Can Too’s professionally coached training programs.

Be like Joe, not like Ann in the graphic below. Take breaks from sitting, move often and be active to reduce your cancer risk.