High Fitness Level in Older Men Associated with Lower Risk of Some Cancers

A new study has shown that men with a high fitness level in midlife are not only at a lower risk of developing lung and colorectal cancer, they're also at a lower risk of dying from cancer if they're diagnosed later in life.

A new study has shown that men with a high fitness level in midlife are not only at a lower risk of developing lung and colorectal cancer, they’re also at a lower risk of dying from cancer if they’re diagnosed later in life.

The study, published online by JAMA Oncology, found that men with high cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in midlife had a 55% lower risk of developing lung cancer and a 44% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to men with low CRF.

Results also showed that high CRF in midlife was associated with a 32% lower risk of cancer death in men who developed lung, colorectal, or prostate cancer at age 65 or older compared with men who had low CRF.

Additionally, high CRF in midlife was associated with a 68% reduction in cardiovascular disease death compared with low CRF among men who had developed cancer.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that CRF is predictive of site-specific cancer incidence, as well as risk of death from cancer or CVD following a cancer diagnosis,” the authors wrote in the study. “These findings provide further support for the effectiveness of CRF assessment in preventive healthcare settings.”

While the association between CRF and cardiovascular disease has been well established, the value of CRF as a predictor of primary cancer has gotten less attention, according to the study authors.

Susan G. Lakoski, MD, MS, of the University of Vermont and coauthors looked at 13,949 men who had a baseline fitness exam where CRF was assessed in a treadmill test. The fitness levels were assessed between 1971 and 2009 and lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers were assessed using Medicare data from 1999 to 2009.

During an average 6.5 years of surveillance, 1310 of them were diagnosed with prostate cancer, 200 were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 181 were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

While the authors stated they were unsure why the same association that was seen between CRF and lung and colorectal cancers was not seen between midlife CRF and prostate cancer, they speculated that men with high CRF may be more prone to undergo preventive screenings and therefore, give them a greater opportunity to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

While the findings shed light on the association between exercise and cancer incidence and survival following a cancer diagnosis at a later age, further research is still needed.

“Future studies are required to determine the absolute level of CRF necessary to prevent site-specific cancer as well as evaluating the long-term effect of cancer diagnosis and mortality in women,” the study concludes.