Can Exercise Reduce Your Cancer Risk?

Research finds exercise may lower cancer risk in men

How You Can Tell If You're Exercising Effectively for Heart Health

There’s more evidence linking activity level to good health.  A new study shows that middle-aged men with a high level of cardiovascular fitness have a lower incidence of lung and colon cancers.  They’re also less likely to die from their cancer.

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“More and more data is coming out that regular exercise is important to prevent cancer,” oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD says.

Preventing some cancers, not all

Researchers at the University of Vermont measured cardiovascular fitness in over 13,000 mid life men between 1971 and 2009 to see how it impacted prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer rates and risk of death from cancer.

The study emphasizes good heart health and activity level.

The researchers found that middle-aged men with high fitness levels face a lower risk for lung and colorectal cancer, but not prostate cancer. They also found that people with high level cardiovascular fitness may put them at a lower risk of death if diagnosed with cancer later in life.

Men who were more physically fit were associated with a 55 percent lower risk of lung cancer, and a 44 percent lower risk for colon cancer compared to men who were less fit at middle-age.

The study also found that middle-aged men with high fitness levels were associated with a 32 percent lower risk for cancer death among men who developed lung, colorectal or prostate cancer at an older age compared with men who didn’t maintain good exercise habits.

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While the association between fitness level and heart disease has been well-established, the study’s findings were the first to demonstrate a link between cardiovascular fitness level and specific cancer incidences.

Maintaining fitness level important

The research identified fitness levels at a particular point in time, Dr. Shepard says.  It did not determine whether the participants kept the same level of fitness at their time of cancer diagnosis.

“That being said, when you can maintain good cardiovascular health, that’s a good thing for warding off cancer,” Dr. Shepard says.

More and more research shows that physical activity is important in preventing cancer.

“There are studies that show that if you exercise regularly, you’re less likely to get cancers,” Dr. Shepard says. “There are also studies that show if you have a sedentary lifestyle, you’re at risk for cancer.”

For instance, if you sit at a desk all day, you’re at higher risk even if you make it to the gym for an hour afterwards.

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“You need to think about being active, but also about being inactive,” Dr. Shepard says.

Maintaining a heart-healthy diet is also important to consider.  The Mediterranean diet is heart-healthy and helps manage weight, too.

“Changing the way you think about food is more important than any particular diet,” Dr. Shepard says.  “Trend diets aren’t the best idea.  Real food, a lifestyle change, is more impactful.”

To limit cancer risk: eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a normal weight.

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