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Being Physically Fit in Mid-life Could Protect Men from Cancer 20 Years Later

Update Date: May 17, 2013 11:30 AM EDT

Research has constantly reconfirmed the health benefits of exercise, whether it is intense training or brisk walking. Being physically fit in life could help stave off diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to a new study, for men in particular, being fit in middle age could help protect them from cancer later on in life. The study, headed by Dr. Susan Lakoski, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Vermont located in Burlington, linked physical fitness to lowered chances of getting lung and colorectal cancers during one's senior years.

In this study, the research team analyzed the data of over 17,000 men with the average age of 50 who participated in one cardiovascular fitness assessment. This assessment, which involved walking on a treadmill while changing speeds and inclines routinely, was a part of a preventive health checkup that took place at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX. The researchers divided the results into five groups ranging from the lowest to the highest fitness levels. The researchers then used Medicare claims data to follow up on the health of the participants roughly 20 to 25 years later. 2,332 of them developed prostate cancer, 276 were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 277 had lung cancer. A total of 769 men died before the follow -up, with 347 deaths due to cancer, 159 due to heart disease and 263 due to other causes.

By using both of the data acquired, the researchers concluded that men who were grouped in the highest fitness level had a 68 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer and a 38 percent lower chance of getting colorectal cancer. Prostate cancer did not seem to be affected. The researchers found that the men who scored the lowest on the fitness test had an increased risk for cancer and heart disease even if they were not obese.

"You don't have to be highly fit to get protection," Lakoski said. He found that even an extra three minutes on the treadmill could lower risk of death from cancer by 14 percent and death from heart disease by 23 percent. The researchers stated that overall fitness is key to lowering cancer risk and death. They recommend people be at least moderately active for about 150 minutes per week.

The findings will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago on June 2. 

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