Can fitness really prevent cancer?
If we have all, since our early age, have been told that fitness and sports are good for our health, the extent of this positive impact is still not fully understood. This is probably what can be concluded from a new scientific report published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which reveals that not only can fitness protect you from cancer, but it does it for 20 or even more years down the road.
‘Two things you can’t change are your genes and your age,’ Susan Lakoski of the University of Vermont, who led the study said. ‘But you can get more fit.’ Lakoski studied data on more than 17,000 men who attended the Cooper Institute in Dallas, within the framework of a study which was founded by Dr. Kenneth Cooper in 1970. The men all took fitness tests on their first visits to the institute, and the institute later acquired their medical records.
Lakoski’s team divided the subjects into five groups based on their fitness at that first visit, when they were around 50 years old. According to the report, men who were the most fit in middle age are the least likely to die a quarter century later even if they are unlucky enough to get cancer. Men who were the most fit at age 50 back in the 1970s were the least likely to develop lung or colon cancer 20 to 25 years later, and, among the men who did get lung, colon or prostate cancer, the fitter they were in their early 50s, the less likely they were to die of it. Every increase in fitness as measured by MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) lowered the risk of dying from cancer by 14 percent and from heart disease by 23 percent.
‘This important study establishes cardiorespiratory fitness as an independent and strong predictor of cancer risk and prognosis in men,’ ASCO president Dr. Sandra Swain said.‘While more research is needed to determine if similar trends are valid in relation to other cancers and among women, these results indicate that people can reduce their risk of cancer with relatively small lifestyle changes.’
While many studies have shown that exercise lowers the risk of cancer, this one is one of the first to show it can also reduce the risk of dying from cancer. Hormones such as prostaglandin and insulin likely play a role, as well as the immune system and a process called oxidation, which damages cells and DNA.