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For cancer deaths, we saw the same pattern as for overall mortality…. For individuals performing physical activity up to the recommended minimum level, the reduction in risk was 20%, which is a significant amount.

—Hannah Arem, MHS, PhD

A study finding that just doing some leisure time physical activity reduces overall and cancer-specific mortality by 20% and that more activity can provide even greater survival benefits concludes that health-care professionals should encourage inactive patients to perform more leisure time physical activity.1 Answers to patients’ questions about the types and amounts of physical activity that provide substantial benefit can be found in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,2 the study’s lead author, Hannah Arem, MHS, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, said in an interview with The ASCO Post.

Those guidelines recommend a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity. “Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week,” according to the guidelines.

The study by Dr. Arem and colleagues in JAMA Internal Medicine found a 31% lower risk of mortality among individuals who met the minimum recommended physical activity or performed twice the recommended minimum leisure time physical activity, a 37% reduced risk at two to three times the minimum, and a 39% reduced risk at three to five times the minimum.

“For cancer deaths, we saw the same pattern as for overall mortality,” Dr. Arem said. For individuals performing physical activity up to the recommended minimum level, “the reduction in risk was 20%, which is a significant amount,” Dr. Arem continued. “Beyond that there were incremental increases in benefit—up to the 31% reduced risk” in cancer-specific mortality among individuals performing 10 or more times the recommended minimum.

Walk, Run, Bike, Swim

Consistent with other studies, walking was the most reported physical activity in the study by Arem et al. The study supplement lists examples of the approximate amounts of four activities needed to meet the minimum recommendations and multiples of that.

For example, meeting the minimum level of physical activity recommended by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans would require walking a 20-minute mile every day, swimming for 35 minutes twice a week, biking for 45 minutes twice a week, or running 10-minute miles for 45 minutes once a week. Reaching 10 times the recommended minimum would mean walking for 3 hours every day, swimming for 1½ hours every day, biking for 2½ hours every day, or running for 1 hour every day. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Arem reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Arem H, Moore SC, Patel A, et al: Leisure time physical activity and mortality: A detailed pooled analysis of the dose-response relationship. JAMA Intern Med. April 6, 2015 (early release online).

2. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC; U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services; 2008. Available at www.health.gov/PAGuidelines. Accessed May 8, 2015.


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