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How Fitness May Help Cancer Survivors To Live Longer

Harold Mandel's picture

If you are hit with cancer you may be able to live longer by staying active. There has been a lot of interest in how good nutrition and exercise may be able to help prevent certain types of cancer. However, not as much has been known about the effects of a healthy lifestyle to prolong survival once you are hit with a diagnosis of cancer. Recent research has raised interest in the possibility that staying active may very well increase survival for cancer survivors.

The number of people who survive cancer has been on the rise, and yet not much has been known about whether engaging in physical activity after being hit with a diagnosis of cancer is associated with lower mortality rates, reported the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Researchers conducted a study of 1021 men with a mean age of 71.3 years who were diagnosed with cancer, aside from nonmelanoma skin cancer.

The men in this study reported their physical activities, including walking, stair climbing, and participation in sports and recreational activities, on questionnaires in 1988, which was a median of 6 years after their cancer diagnosis. The physical activity reports were updated in 1993 and the men in the study were followed until 2008. This was followed by a mortality rate follow-up. It was observed that higher levels of physical activity were associated with lower rates of death due to cancer and cardiovascular disease. It was concluded that engaging in physical activity after a diagnosis of cancer is associated with better survival among men.

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In a news release Loyola Medicine has discussed the research finding that survivors of cancer who are physically active live longer. There has been a great deal of interest generated by the finding that physical activity significantly extends the lives of male cancer survivors. During the study period men who burned greater than 12,600 kilojoules per week in physical activity were found to be 48 percent less likely to die than those who burned less than 2,100 kilojoules per week.

Earlier diagnosis and treatment improvements have been associated with the finding that many cancer survivors are living longer. Kathleen Y. Wolin, PhD, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, who is co-author of the study, which has been published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, has said, “Thus physical activity should be actively promoted to such individuals to enhance longevity.” Extensive research has shown that among generally healthy, cancer-free populations physical activity extends longevity. However, there has not been much research on physical activity among cancer survivors.

The researchers examined data from the Harvard Alumni Health Study, which is an ongoing study of men who entered Harvard as undergraduates between 1916 and 1950. They came up with similar findings for mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The cancer survivors who were most physically active were found to be 38 percent less likely to die of cancer and 49 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease during the follow-up period.

I have observed a great deal of interest in how good nutrition, including eating a lot of vegetables and fish with less red meat, seems to help prevent many types of cancer. Some studies which have suggested that drinking green tea and taking garlic supplements may also be associated with lower rates of some cancers, have also aroused a great deal of interest. And on the positive side of the war against smoking, I generally find that the more vividly the association between smoking and lung cancer is made the more of a commitment more people seem to make to staying away from smoking.

Furthermore, the finding that exercise appears to be associated with lower rates of many types of cancer has found many people exercising more than ever. This new research which shows cancer survivors too can benefit from more exercise offers new hope for longer lives for people hit with a diagnosis of cancer. Clearly, physicians should take the time to counsel their patients about the potential benefits of an active lifestyle in such cases. Other research has shown that Qigong, which is a Chinese exercise, may help men cope better with the fatigue which is associated with prostate cancer, as I have reported on in a separate article for EmaxHealth.