New study: Exercise may improve prostate cancer survival

April 21, 2016 Providence Health Team

Good news for men with prostate cancer. An active lifestyle could lower your risk of dying from the disease by up 30 percent. Men who get exercise regularly at moderate to high levels—before and after a diagnosis—fare best.

These are the findings of a study sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Led by Ying Wang, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist in the Epidemiology Research Program at the ACA in Atlanta, researchers evaluated data on the physical activity of more than 10,000 men with prostate cancer between 1993 and 2011.

Study focuses on localized prostate cancer

The men ranged in age from 50 to 93, and all had been diagnosed with non-metastatic prostate cancer, meaning it had not spread beyond the prostate gland.

"Our results support evidence that prostate cancer survivors should adhere to physical activity guidelines, and suggest that physicians should consider promoting a physically active lifestyle to their prostate cancer patients," Dr. Wang said in a news release by the American Association for Cancer Research, which conducted the study. Earlier research found a correlation between vigorous physical exercise and the odds of surviving prostate cancer. The current study indicates that moderate exercise also is effective.

What kind of exercise?

In Dr. Wang’s study, researchers evaluated the weekly activity of the men, who kept journals of what they did. The activities included:

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Bicycling
  • Aerobics
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Racquetball

Researchers then calculated metabolic equivalent hours (MET) for the activities.

Exercise makes a difference

The research team looked at the men’s activity before and after their prostate cancer diagnosis. They found benefits at both stages:

  • Men who exercised for 17.5 or more MET hours per week before their diagnosis were 30 percent less likely to die of prostate cancer than men who exercised for 3.5 or fewer MET hours per week.
  • Men who exercised the most after diagnosis lowered their risk of dying from prostate cancer by 34 percent.
  • Men who maintained or increased their physical activity after being diagnosed also benefitted.
  • Men who walked for four to six hours a week prior to their diagnosis lowered their risk of death by 33 percent.
  • Men who walked for seven or more hours a week prior to their diagnosis lowered their risk by 37 percent.

There was no statistically significant association for men who walked after being diagnosed.

"The American Cancer Society recommends adults engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week," said Dr. Wang. "These results indicate that following these guidelines might be associated with better prognosis."

Guidelines for cancer prevention

The American Cancer Society's guidelines for cancer prevention fall under three categories: weight, physical activity and diet.

Maintain a healthy weight throughout your life:

  • Be as lean as possible without being underweight.
  • Don’t gain excess weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.
  • Engage in regular physical activity and limit high-calorie foods and drinks.

Be physically active:

  • As Dr. Wang noted, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (or a combination of these) each week. It’s best to spread your activity throughout the week.
  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down and watching TV.
  • Physical activity above your usual activities—no matter the level—can have many health benefits.

Eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant foods:

  • Choose foods and drinks in amounts that help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat.
  • Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks to two per day.

If you have questions about prostate cancer or the study, talk with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here

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