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More Time, Energy and Feeling Fitter Would Motivate People to Be More Active

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A new YouGov poll, commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund, has found that over half (56%) of UK adults said that having more time, energy, and feeling fitter would motivate them to be more physically active. Physical activity was defined as including walking, household chores, climbing the stairs, or playing sports. Of those, 2 in 4 (56%), 4 in 10 (43%) opted for energy and feeling fitter as a motivator for getting more active, and 3 in 10 (29%) opted for more time.

This year, the charity’s Cancer Prevention Action Week (19–25 February 2024) is encouraging people to make their move by finding spare moments in their day to fit in short bursts of activity a few times a day – also known as “exercise snacking” – that get them slightly breathless. Stationary, idle, or downtime moments could be used to do wall planks while waiting for the kettle to boil, squat while scrolling on social media, or dance to your favourite song while cooking.

Whether people do a little or a lot of activity on a regular basis, the campaign is for everyone. Make Your Move wants to help people become more active throughout their daily lives, now and in the long term, so they can start feeling its health benefits.

Being physically active has many health benefits. It can help reduce the risk of breast, colon, and endometrial cancers. Emerging evidence shows that just 3.5 minutes per day of vigorous activity like stair climbing can reduce overall cancer risk by 17–18%, compared to doing no vigorous activity. There is also strong evidence that aerobic physical activity, including walking, can help you maintain a healthy weight. We know that living with overweight or obesity is linked to at least 13 different cancers.

Being physically active can also improve cardiovascular health, help manage hypertension (high blood pressure), and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, physical activity has mental health benefits as it can reduce and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Doing regular short bouts of movement or exercise throughout the day, where you are getting slightly breathless, is a type of “exercise snack” and counts towards our physical activity targets. For some, breaking up movement throughout the day is more practical due to time constraints. In the UK, it’s recommended that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, like brisk walking or gardening, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, such as fast dancing.

Other findings from the poll showed that UK adults are more than twice as likely to spend most of their time watching TV (38%) compared to cooking and preparing food (15%). Out of the respondents that said they spend most of their time playing video games, 40% of those spend three hours or more playing in a typical day. Also, 28% of respondents who spend most of their time on social media said they spend three hours or more doing so every day.

Ellie Philpotts (27), who is living beyond a Hodgkin lymphoma cancer diagnosis, said: “I was diagnosed with cancer when I was just 15, on the cusp of getting my own independence and planning my career. After dealing with the late effects cancer treatment has had, I’m on a mission to future-proof my body and health as far as I can.

“I’ve incorporated ‘exercise snacking’ when doing daily tasks, such as squatting while brushing my teeth – it’s a great way to get moving instead of just standing still.”

Rachael Gormley, chief executive officer at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “Being physically active is one of our cancer prevention recommendations and can help prevent at least three types of cancer. That’s why, for our annual Cancer Prevention Action Week, we’re encouraging people to move their bodies more regularly. No matter what age you are, it’s important to be active, and it’s never too late to start moving more to help reduce the risk of cancer later in life.”

Matt Lambert, health information and promotion manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “It’s clear that many people struggle to fit in time to be physically active, which is why we’re encouraging people to do short bursts of activity, even if it’s a few minutes at a time, regularly throughout their day. Being active has many benefits for our health, including lowering cancer risk and making us feel good – both physically and mentally.”

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