Move in Minutes: Smart Tips to Minimize Sitting

UT MD Anderson experts encourage adults to reduce sedentary behavior.

MD Anderson News Release 02/08/12

HOUSTON — Sitting for extended periods can raise the chances of developing cancer even for people who exercise regularly, says recent research. In response to these findings, fitness experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center share advice on how to get moving in minutes.

“Taking just one to two minute breaks from sitting may help lower your cancer risk,” said Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. “That’s because even short spurts of movement can help minimize inflammation, insulin resistance, and long-term weight gain — all factors that make it harder for the body to fight off cancer.”

Basen-Engquist, who uses a pedometer and tries to get at least 500 steps an hour, offers these tips to get moving — even when there’s little time to spare.

Have just 1-2 minutes? Take the stairs.

Skip the elevator or escalator, and take the stairs at work and when doing errands.

“Taking the stairs gets your heart pumping, builds muscle, strengthens bones and burns calories,” said Basen-Engquist, who conducts studies on how to help cancer survivors adopt more physically active lifestyles. “And, the more often you take the stairs, the bigger the payoff.”

Have 5 minutes? Stretch.

Men and women can take breaks from sitting at work or home by standing up and stretching their backs, forearms, wrists, legs and hamstrings. Basen-Engquist stretches throughout the day by using an exercise ball at her desk.

Among the benefits: more energy, better circulation and less muscle tension and stress.

Basen-Engquist recommends getting started with these easy stretches or using this desk stretches video.

Have 10-15 minutes? Take a brisk walk.

“Lace up your tennis shoes for a short walk during your lunch-hour, walking meetings with co-workers or a quick trip around the neighborhood,” Basen-Engquist said. “I also walk to the coffee shop in the next building when I want a cup of coffee.”

Walking helps maintain a healthier blood pressure, boost metabolism, curb stress, and possibly reduce breast and colorectal cancer risk. Just keep in mind that brisk walking yields more benefits than a casual stroll.

“For walking to count as exercise, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster,” Basen-Engquist said. “You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not sing.”

Have 20-30 minutes? Tidy the house.

Tidying up does more than limit couch time. It can also qualify as aerobic activity.

“Just make sure you’re getting your heart rate up at a consistent level,” Basen-Engquist said.

To do that, focus on repetitive activities that use large muscle groups, like the legs and back. This includes vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, gardening and even taking multiple trips upstairs to put away laundry.

“Remember, it’s important get creative and find ways to stay active outside of your normal exercise routine,” Basen-Engquist said. “Just be sure that you’re also getting 30 minutes of actual exercise each day to help lower your chances for cancer.”

For additional exercise tips, visit