Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and the risk of colon and rectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study

Regan A. Howard, D. Michal Freedman, Yikyung Park, Albert Hollenbeck, Arthur Schatzkin, Michael F. Leitzmann

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172 Scopus citations


Objective: In order to prospectively investigate physical activity at varying intensities and sedentary behavior in relation to colorectal cancer. Methods: We considered 488,720 participants of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study who were aged 50-71 years at baseline in 1995-1996. Through 31 December, 2003, we identified 3,240 and 1,482 colorectal cancers among men and women, respectively. We estimated multivariable relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of colorectal cancer using Cox regression. Results: Engaging in exercise/sports five or more times per week compared to never or rarely exercising was associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer among men (p = 0.001; RR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.68-0.91) and a suggestive decrease in risk among women (p = 0.376; RR = 0.85, 95% CI = 0.70-1.04). Engaging in exercise/sports was also associated with a decreased risk of rectal cancer in men (P = 0.074; RR comparing extreme categories = 0.76, 95% CI = 0.61-0.94). In men, we observed inverse relations of both low intensity (p = 0.017; RR = 0.81, 95% CI = 0.65-1.00 for ≥7 h/week) and moderate to vigorous intensity activity (p = 0.037; RR = 0.82, 95% CI = 0.67-0.99 for ≥7 h/week) to colon cancer risk. In contrast, sedentary behavior (time spent watching television/videos) was positively associated with colon cancer (p < 0.001; RR = 1.61, 95% CI = 1.14-2.27 for ≥9 h/day) among men. Similar, but less pronounced relations were observed in women. Conclusion: Engaging in physical activity of any intensity is associated with reductions in colon and rectal cancer risk. Conversely, time spent sedentary is associated with increased colon cancer risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-953
Number of pages15
JournalCancer Causes and Control
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Cohort studies
  • Colon cancer
  • Physical activity
  • Rectal cancer


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