Moderate-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) reduces colon cancer risk; however, it is unclear how the timing of MVPA throughout the adult life course impacts colon cancer risk. We evaluated whether maintenance and changes in MVPA levels over time are associated with colon cancer risk.


We assessed 293,198 adults ages 50 to 71 years in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants completed baseline health and physical activity questionnaires between 1995 and 1997 and were followed through 2011, (average follow-up of 13.1 years). There were 5,072 colon cancer cases over the study period. Using latent class trajectory models, we identified seven distinct MVPA trajectories across the adult life course (15–18, 19–29, 30–35, and past 10-years) and ran Cox proportional hazards regression models.


Compared with those who maintained low MVPA levels, those who maintained high and moderate levels of MVPA had a lower risk of colon cancer [HR, 0.85; confidence interval (CI), 0.78–0.93; HR = 0.87; CI, 0.76–1.00)], and those who increased MVPA levels early and later during adulthood had a lower colon cancer risk (HR, 0.90; CI, 0.80–1.01) and (HR, 0.92; CI, 0.80–1.06), respectively. Those who decreased MVPA early in adulthood had an increased risk of colon cancer (HR, 1.12; CI, 1.02–1.23). These associations were stronger in adults ages <65 years at baseline and in men (P < 0.001).


Consistent participation in MVPA throughout life may reduce colon cancer risk.


These findings emphasize that engaging in MVPA throughout adulthood lowers risk of colon cancer.

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