Physically Active Cancer Survivors Living Longer

Physical activity after cancer diagnosis may extend the lives of men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Staying physically active is now considered to be the fountain of youth. People who spend time moving tend to live longer. Does this hold true for cancer survivors? 

The more physically active male cancer survivors were less likely to die from cancer and cardiovascular disease than their less active counterparts, a new study discovered.

The authors suggest that physical activity be promoted to cancer survivors as a way to extend longevity.

"Stay active to live longer."

I-Min Lee, MPH, ScD, professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, including Kathleen Y. Wolin, PhD, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, examined data from Harvard Alumni Health Study, an ongoing study of men who entered Harvard between 1916 and 1950.

With early detection and more effective treatment, the number of cancer survivors living in the US grows daily. What’s not clear is how physical activity impacts long-term survival.

Investigators worked with 1,021 men who had been diagnosed with cancer an average of six years earlier. The average age of the gentlemen in the study was just over 71 years.

Participants completed a survey about their regular physical activities in 1988 and then again in 1993. The men were followed until 2008.

The questionnaire asked about daily walking, stair climbing, along with sports and recreational activities in the previous week. Researchers then converted this data into energy expenditures measured as kilojoules per week. A kilojoule is the equivalent of about four calories.

Researchers found that compared to men who expended 2,100 kilojoules a week (about 500 calories), men who expended 12,600 kilojoules or 3,100 calories were 48 percent less likely to die of any cause during the follow-up period.

A 176-pound man walking briskly for 30 minutes a day for five days a week expends 4,200 kilojoules, which the researchers also found to be sufficient for lowering mortality rates.

Dr. Lee’s team found that the most active survivors were 38 percent less likely to die from cancer and 49 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than the least physically active survivors.

The authors reported that the study "...provides data showing that higher levels of physical activity in male cancer survivors are related to lower rates of mortality from all causes, cancer, and CVD. Thus, physical activity should be actively promoted to such individuals to enhance longevity."

These findings don’t surprise Rusty Gregory, a certified wellness coach in Austin, Texas and dailyRx Contributing Expert. “Exercise strengthens the immune system and helps burn the glucose for energy that might otherwise be feeding cancer cell growth. Exercise also increases confidence, builds a greater sense of well-being, and instills purpose and meaning, all of which lead to longevity." Gregory said.

This study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, the official journal of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
February 4, 2014
Last Updated:
February 5, 2014