Gentlemen, Get Thee to a Gym: Exercise Can Significantly Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk


Exercise has the highest potential preventative impact when it comes to developing lethal prostate cancer. (Stocksy)

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.”

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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 fully 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.

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The study also revealed that incidents of lethal prostate cancer in American men over 60 would be cut by 15 percent if they ate a minimum of seven servings of tomatoes per week (thanks, lycopene) , and incidents would be cut by 17 percent if they consumed at least one serving of fatty fish, like salmon or tuna. And adding to the recent cavalcade of reports linking processed meat consumption to cancer, this UCSF study claims that reducing ones intake of processed meats would cut the risk of lethal prostate cancer in men over 60 by 12 percent. (Smoking, interestingly enough, had the lowest impact, with lack of tobacco use only lowering the risk for prostate cancer by 3 percent. Study authors think this is largely because the majority of older American men are already nonsmokers, however, and have been for some time.)

“There are a number of foods that may reduce a man’s risk of developing an aggressive form of prostate cancer,” says Kenfield, and her recommendations include, in addition to the noshing on the aforementioned tomatoes and fatty fish: eating more cruciferous vegetables, replacing foods high in saturated fat with healthy sources of vegetable fats, such as olive oil and nuts, avoiding high fat dairy foods and processed meat, and not taking single nutrient supplements unless specifically recommended by a physician.

“This study underscores the ongoing need for more effective prevention measures and policies to increase exercise, improve diet quality and reduce tobacco use in our population,” senior author June M. Chan, ScD, from the departments of Urology, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF, told the university news.

After all, prostate cancer is currently the most common type of cancer, other than skin cancer, found in American men, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 7 men will develop the disease during his lifetime. If a little healthy dietary changes and regular exercise could help to reduce that number, it would be more than worth the sweat.

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