Does Staying Fit Lower Men’s Cancer Risk?

By Sara Bondell - July 12, 2023

Staying fit could influence whether a man will develop, or even survive, three of the most common cancers in men, according to a new Swedish study.

The study found higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with a significantly lower risk of men developing colon and lung cancer, as well as an increased likelihood of surviving prostate, colon and lung cancer.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of how well the body’s respiratory and circulatory systems can supply oxygen to working skeletal muscle to sustain high-intensity physical activity over time. It’s an objective measure of an individual’s physical activity level and tends to improve with more frequent, longer duration and higher intensity aerobic exercise.

Dr. Nathan Parker, Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior
Dr. Nathan Parker, Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior

Aerobic exercise performed at moderate to vigorous intensities generally have the largest impact on cardiorespiratory fitness. Those exercises include brisk walking, jogging or running, cycling, swimming, aerobics or playing sports that involve sustained movement. Resistance training to improve muscular strength and function can also lead to cardiorespiratory fitness benefits.

“Having higher cardiorespiratory fitness is related to the same benefits that result from engaging in more physical activity: better immune function, regulating metabolism and decreasing chronic inflammation,” said Dr. Nathan Parker, a researcher in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior at Moffitt Cancer Center. “All of these benefits tend to help reduce cancer risk and improve trajectories following cancer diagnosis.”

The study analyzed nearly 178,000 Swedish men between 18-75 who completed health assessments that included testing their cardio health on an exercise bike. Researchers tracked the men’s health on average for 10 years, and found higher cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with a lower risk for colon cancer incidence, lung cancer incidence and death and prostate cancer death. Theoretically, avoiding very low cardiorespiratory levels could have prevented 4% to 8% of all colon cancer cases, 4% of all deaths from lung cancer and 4% to 19% of deaths from prostate cancer.

While this study focused on men, Parker says women who improve their cardiorespiratory fitness levels can experience the same benefits. A 2019 study analyzed almost 190 women and found that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with as much as a 20% lower risk of cancer incidence and 26% reduction in cancer deaths.

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