Being Fit Earlier in Life Associated with Reduced Risk of Developing Multiple Cancers
Study finds that good cardiorespiratory fitness can lower the risk of cancer
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Being fit earlier in life is associated with a reduced risk, in some cases of up to 42%, of developing nine different types of cancer in later life, according to a large long-term study.
While exercise has been previously linked with a lower risk of certain cancers, long-term and large cohort studies on multiple cancer sites are sparse.
The new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, drew from data from more than 1 million male Swedish conscripts between 16 and 25, who were followed for an average of 33 years from 1968 to 2005. The results suggested that good cardiorespiratory fitness – an individual’s ability to engage in sustained aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, and swimming – was associated with a 42% reduced risk of lung cancer, a 40% reduced risk of liver cancer and a 39% reduced risk of oesophageal cancer.
- Good cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a reduced risk of developing multiple types of cancer
- 42% reduced risk of lung cancer
- 40% reduced risk of liver cancer
- 39% reduced risk of oesophageal cancer
- Lower risk of head and neck, stomach, pancreatic bowel, and kidney cancer
- 7% heightened risk of prostate cancer
- 31% heightened risk of skin cancer
The lead researcher, Dr Aron Onerup – at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said he was surprised by some of these broad associations across several organ systems and “by the consistent associations between cardiorespiratory fitness and cancers in the gastrointestinal tract”.
This study “doesn’t fully take into account the effect of diet, alcohol and smoking, which are more likely to affect your risk of developing cancer”, said Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK.
Dr Mark Hamer, professor of sport and exercise medicine at University College London, said that the results strengthen the incentive for promoting interventions aimed at increasing cardiorespiratory fitness in youth throughout school and university years.
Reducing cancer risk is not the only reason to exercise. There are compound benefits across emotional health and preventing cardiovascular disease. It is never too late to get fit to reap health protective benefits.
As for how much exercise, Dr Claire Knight recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, but said: “It’s fine to build up activity over time and there are lots of ways to be more active. You don’t need to run a marathon or join a gym – anything that gets you warmer, slightly out of breath, and your heart beating faster counts.