As news breaks that fewer men are being screened for prostate cancer, and fewer cases are being diagnosed, leading many to debate if that could possibly be pure coincidence, a newly released study from the University of California, San Francisco that followed tens of thousands of midlife and older men for more than 20 years has determined that vigorous exercise and other healthy habits could cut the likelihood of developing a lethal type of prostate cancer by up to 68 percent.
Researchers looked at the exercise habits, body mass index and smoking habits as well as fatty fish, tomato, and red meat consumption of participants, and found that exercise had the highest potential preventative impact when it came to developing lethal prostate cancer, leading them to a calculation full of amazing potential: 34 percent of lethal prostate cancer in American men over 60 could be reduced “if all men exercised to the point of sweating for at least three hours a week.”
For the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at UCSF led by Stacey Kenfield, ScD, analyzed data from two previously conducted U.S. undertakings (a Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from Harvard that tracked more than 42,000 males ages 40 to 75 for more than 20 years; and a second, the Physicians’ Health Study that followed more than 20,000 males ages 40 to 84, from 1982 to 2010) and developed a score based on the results of the health professionals’ survey that could then be applied to the physicians’ study. The UCSF researchers assigned one point to each affirmative response to questions about lifestyle behaviors, specifically including sweating, having a body mass index, or BMI, of under 30, being tobacco-free for at least 10 years, eating a high amount of fatty fish and tomatoes, and eating a low amount of processed meat. All participants were free of any diagnosed cancer at the start of the study, and a four year delay in result tabulation was imposed to rule out any participants who may unknowingly have had lethal prostate cancer at their time of inquiry.
The results were staggeringly optimistic: If men over the age of 60 incorporated these healthy habits into their lives, up to 47 percent of lethal prostate cancer cases in the United States could be prevented. And of all the healthy lifestyle choices one could make, exercise trumps them all when it comes to cancer prevention, with the study revealing that 34 percent of lethal prostate cancer could be avoided if all men exercised to the point of sweating for at least three hours a week.
Exercise is “a wonder drug for disease prevention and should be prescribed to everyone to improve their overall health,” Kenfield told Yahoo Health, citing its ability to lower breast, colorectal, endometrial, and prostate cancer risk, as well as reduce the instances of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and many other conditions.
As to why exercise can help reduce instances of prostate cancer, specifically, Kenfield says “the mechanisms are not dully known,” but it could be the “effects [of exercise] on hormonal systems in the body, the immune system, inflammation, energy metabolism, and oxidative stress.” Either way, it’s the kind of proactive medical news that shouldn’t be ignored.