Being More Active and Sitting Less Can Improve Quality of Life for Older Adults, Including Cancer Survivors

A CPS-II Study

Researcher: Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH 
Institution: American Cancer Society 
Area of Focus: Epidemiology and Behavior Research, Population Science

The Challenge: Working toward a healthy balance between physical activity and sedentary time each day may be reasonable strategies for improving quality of life for cancer survivors, but there are gaps in the current research. 

Only a few of the studies that explored this relationship have included people with different types of cancer; in most studies all participants have the same type of cancer. 

Current studies have also not included a cancer-free group for reference to help in our understanding of whether the relationship between physical activity or sitting time and quality of life is specific to cancer survivors or common to all adults of a similar age.

The Research: By using survey responses from participants in the ACS Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, ACS researcher Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, was able to lead a study that included people with various cancers as well as a comparison group of people without cancer. The study’s findings are published in the journal Cancer.

Rees-Punia and her colleagues analyzed self-reported aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activities, sitting time, and mental and physical health among nearly 78,000 predominantly non-Latinx White participants with an average age of 78. 

They studied survey response data from 3 groups: cancer survivors who were diagnosed 1 to 5 years ago; cancer survivors who were diagnosed 6 to 10 years ago, and people with no history of cancer.

They found: 

  • The differences in physical or mental health between cancer survivors and cancer-free participants were not clinically meaningful. 
  • In all 3 groups, people who spent more time being physically active at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity reported better physical and mental health.
  • In all 3 groups, people who were sitting the least amount of time reported better physical and mental health.

“Overall, the results of this study suggest that more physical activity and less sitting may be associated with a better quality of life for older adults, even those with a history of cancer,” Rees-Punia said. 

Why Does It Matter? With a rapidly aging population and nearly 16.9 million cancer survivors currently living in the United States, there is a clear need to identify strategies associated with improving quality of life for aging cancer survivors. These findings provide evidence for the importance of engaging in regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity and decreasing sitting time as a reasonable medication-free strategy to improve quality of life in older men and women, with or without a prior cancer diagnosis.