Stay Active to Lower Deadly Cancer Risk
Regular vigorous exercise may decrease the risk of dying from prostate cancer, reports a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2005;165:1005–10).
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, and is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Diets high in red meat and animal fat seem to be related to prostate cancer development, while soy foods, dietary fiber, and lycopene-containing foods such as tomatoes appear to provide protection against the disease. African American men are 65% more likely than white men to develop prostate cancer, and are more than twice as likely to die from it. Men with a brother or father with prostate cancer also have a much higher chance of developing the disease. The rate of prostate cancer rises rapidly after the age of 50; in fact, 80% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men older than 65.
Previous studies have suggested that men with higher levels of physical activity may have a lower risk of prostate cancer. The new study examined data from 47,620 men who took part in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The participants were followed for 14 years to determine the relationship between exercise and the incidence of prostate cancer. Baseline information including age, height, weight, physical activity, diet, and history of illnesses was collected via a questionnaire. Every two years thereafter, follow-up questionnaires collected information regarding new medical diagnoses and changes in physical activity.
As part of the questionnaire, the men reported the average time spent each week in various physical activities. Vigorous activity included jogging, biking, swimming, tennis, racquetball, squash, rowing, calisthenics, heavy outdoor work, and weight training. Nonvigorous activities included walking and climbing stairs. Diagnoses of prostate cancer were recorded, and information on the stage (how advanced) and grade (how aggressive) were collected in the majority of cases.
Over the course of the study, 3,006 cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed. Nonvigorous physical activity did not appear to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. However, older men (over age 65) who engaged in at least three hours per week of vigorous exercise had a 70% lower chance of developing advanced cancer (that which has spread to the surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, or other organs) or dying from prostate cancer than men with the lowest level of vigorous activity. Among men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer, those with the highest level of vigorous physical activity tended to have the least aggressive forms of cancer.
While the exact mechanism responsible for the risk reduction is not known, it is possible that exercise may affect the levels of certain hormones thought to play a role in prostate cancer development. Another possibility is that exercise-induced sweating helps the body rid itself of accumulated cancer-causing environmental chemicals.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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