Physical activity and colon cancer: a public health perspective

Ann Epidemiol. 1997 Feb;7(2):137-45. doi: 10.1016/s1047-2797(96)00129-9.


Purpose: It has been suggested that performing physical activity for at least 30 min on most days of the week will improve health. The purpose of this study was to assess the association between physical activity and colon cancer as it relates to this public health recommendation.

Methods: A large population-based case-control study of colon cancer was conducted. Study participants came from three areas of the United States: Northern California, Utah, and the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area in Minnesota.

Results: Long-term involvement in high levels of activity, equivalent to > or = 60 min of vigorous activity per session, was associated with decreased risk (odds ration [OR], 0.68; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.52-0.87). The amount of time involved in the activity appeared to have a greater impact than the number of days per week that activities were performed. Those reporting the highest level of activity, as defined by both duration and vigorous intensity, were at the lowest risk (OR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.52-0.75) relative to those who were sedentary; associations did not differ by age at diagnosis, site of the tumor within the colon, or sex. The inverse association between colon cancer and long-term vigorous leisure-time activity was slightly stronger among those without a family history of colorectal cancer than among those with a family history of colorectal cancer. From these data we estimate that 13% of colon cancer could be attributed to lack of vigorous leisure-time activity in the population; we estimate that 4.3 cases of colon cancer/100,000 population are prevented each year because people are involved in vigorous leisure-time physical activity.

Conclusions: Data from this study suggest that a high level of vigorous leisure-time activity performed over the past 20 years was important in reducing colon cancer risk; the greatest inverse association was observed when activities were performed for longer periods of time per session for the past 20 years. These and other data indicate that it is important to identify ways to facilitate an increase in leisure-time physical activity within the population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Public Health
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors