Men who exercise often are less likely to die from cancer than those who don't, new research published in the British Journal of Cancer* revealed yesterday.
A team of scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden looked at the effect of physical activity and cancer risk in 40,708 men aged between 45 and 79.
The seven year study found that men who walked or cycled for at least 30 minutes a day had a 34 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer than the men who did less exercise or nothing at all.
During the period studied, 3,714 men developed cancer and 1,153 died from the disease. The researchers suggest that half an hour's walking or cycling a day increased survival among these men by 33 per cent.
The researchers surveyed men from two counties in central Sweden about their lifestyle and the amount of physical activity they were usually doing. They then scored these responses and compared the results with data on cancer diagnosis and death officially recorded in a central cancer registry over a seven year period.
Lead author, Professor Alicja Wolk, said: "These results clearly show for the first time, the effect that very simple and basic daily exercise such as walking or cycling has in reducing cancer death risk in middle-age and elderly men.
"Additionally, this study threw up some really promising data on the role exercise can play in preventing cancer which we would like to explore further in future work."
They found that a more intensive programme of walking and cycling for between an hour and an hour and a half a day, led to a l6 per cent lower incidence of cancer. But these activities only led to a five per cent reduction in cancer rates among the men who walked or cycled for 30 minutes day - a finding which could be due to chance.
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This study gives us a clear indication that men who exercise are less likely to die from cancer, and that they are more likely to survive the disease if they get it.
"It's encouraging to see research that helps us understand in more detail what steps men can take to reduce risk of cancer.
"It's not entirely clear from this study what role exercise plays in preventing cancer in men, but we do know that a healthy lifestyle can prevent up to half of all cancers - and regular exercise forms a key part of this. Cancer Research UK recommends maintaining a healthy body weight, eating sensibly and taking regular exercise as key to a healthy life - along with avoiding smoking.
"But it is important to note that when deciding to exercise more, people must take into account their own level of fitness and build up their exercise carefully."
*Association of physical activity with cancer incidence, mortality, and survival a population-based study of men (2008), British Journal of Cancer.
About this cohort study
In 1997-1998, all men aged 45-79 years residing in Vastmanland and Orebro counties (central Sweden) received an invitation to participate in the study. An accompanying questionnaire asked about physical activity, current weight, height, education, smoking habits, intake of alcohol, diabetes, family history of cancer, and other lifestyle factors. The researchers then adjusted the data to insure they represented the whole Swedish male population aged 45-79 years in terms of age, educational level, and prevalence of overweight people. They ended with 40,708 valid responses.
Information on physical activity was collected by asking questions about occupation, time spent doing housework, time spent walking, bicycling or taking part in other active leisure-time exercise, and inactive leisure-time activities such as watching TV or reading. The answers were categorised and combined to form a physical activity level to give overall comparable scores.
The death figures were ascertained through the Swedish Death Register at Statistic Sweden and cancers by computerised linkage with the National Swedish Cancer Register and the Regional Cancer Register covering the study area. Follow-up lasted seven years from 1 January 1998 to 2004.
About the British Journal of Cancer (BJC)
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