People who are more active and exercise harder are less likely to develop cancer and die, according to new research.
Researchers from the universities of Kuopio and Oulu in Finland studied 2,560 men aged between 42 and 61 from eastern Finland with no history of cancer and assessed their leisure time physical activity over a 12-month period.
The men were followed up for around 16 years, on average, and a total of 181 of them had died from cancer. The most common types of cancer death noted were gastrointestinal, lung, prostate, brain and lymphoma.
Existing evidence recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days for health promotion and prevention of heart disease. Little is known, however, about what levels of activity are beneficial, if at all, to reduce cancer mortality.
The researchers used a physical activity questionnaire and asked the men participating in the study to record the frequency, average duration of the session, and intensity of activity. The intensity of physical activity was measured in metabolic units (MET or metabolic equivalents of oxygen consumption).
Walking was measured as having an average intensity of 4.2 MET, jogging 10.1 MET, swimming 5.4 MET, yard work/gardening/farming 4.3 MET, and bicycling to work 5.1 MET.
The researchers found that average intensity of the men’s physical activity was 4.5 MET and the average duration of activity was 462 minutes per week. Just over a quarter of the men performed exercise for less than 30 minutes a day during leisure time.
An increase of 1.2 metabolic units in oxygen consumption was related to a decrease in cancer mortality mainly due to lung and gastrointestinal cancers, after the researchers took into account age, alcohol consumption, smoking, body mass index and energy, fibre and fat intake. Men who exercised to a moderate to high intensity level for at least 30 minutes a day were half as likely to get cancer as those who did not.
Online edition of British Journal of Sports Medicine, available at: