Men can cut prostate cancer risk by third with small step up in exercise

A middle-aged man warms up to exercise
A middle-aged man warms up to exercise

Men could cut their risk of prostate cancer by more than a third if they improve their fitness levels by just 3 per cent a year, a study has suggested.

Experts have found a statistical link between changes in men’s fitness levels and their risk of developing the cancer for the first time.

The study of more than 57,000 men, with an average age of 41, found that those who were able to increase their cardiorespiratory fitness by 3 per cent each year were 35 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer, than those who did not.

Researchers measured the amount of oxygen the body uses while exercising at a high intensity to determine their fitness level, also known as the VO2 max.

A person can increase their fitness or oxygen capacity through regular exercise, such as by running, cycling or swimming, at least three times a week.

The men were assessed over an average of seven years during which time 592, or around one per cent, of the 57,652 participants were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The men were categorised into groups depending on how much their fitness level changed each year. Those with an increase in their fitness level of 3 per cent or more, a reduction by 3 per cent or more, and those who remained stable.

The rate of prostate cancer was highest in the group whose fitness levels fell and lowest in the group whose fitness levels increased.

The researchers said the results “highlight the important role of supporting the general public to increase their cardiorespiratory fitness or aim to reach moderate fitness levels”.

The study noted that there was no statistical significance among the men who were already at a high fitness level.

During the study, 46 people died from prostate cancer, but there was no trend related to fitness.

An MRI scan of benign prostatic hyperplasia
Prostate cancer symptoms are also common among people with enlarged but benign prostates, the condition for which King Charles has been treated - Paul Biris/Moment RF

Previous research has found that people could increase their cardiorespiratory fitness levels by up to 16 per cent a year.

More than 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK, while around 12,000 die each year – the equivalent of one every 45 minutes.

Simon Grieveson, the assistant director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said that the new research “adds to previous studies showing possible links between exercise and a lower likelihood of getting prostate cancer”.

He said: “Regularly keeping fit and eating a balanced diet are good for every man’s general health and wellbeing. However, we don’t know definitively whether physical activity can lower a man’s risk of getting, or dying from, prostate cancer.

“The earlier you catch prostate cancer, the easier it is to treat it,” Mr Grieveson added.

Prostate cancer is more common in men over 50, black men over 45 and men with a family history of the condition.

It can often show no symptoms during its earlier stages, when it is also more treatable.

Symptoms tend only to occur when the tumour grows large enough to place pressure on the tube carrying urine from the bladder, and so causes frequent need to go to the toilet, the feeling of not emptying completely and a weak flow.

These symptoms are all also common among people with enlarged but benign prostates, such as the condition for which King Charles received treatment for this week.

Matt Lambert, the health information and promotion manager at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “It is widely known that having a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness is important for our health and longevity, but it can also be protective against certain diseases.

He added: “This year’s cancer prevention action week, starting on Feb 19, is calling on the public to do short bursts of activity throughout their day to increase their physical activity levels and start feeling the benefits, like getting fitter and reducing their risk of cancer.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was conducted by several universities across Sweden and led by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences GIH, Stockholm.

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