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Cancer survivors who are physically active live longer, study finds

MAYWOOD, Ill. – Physical activity significantly extends the lives of male cancer survivors, a new study of 1,021 men has found.

During the period that the men were followed, those who expended  more than 12,600 kilojoules per week in physical activity were 48 percent less likely to die than those who burned fewer than 2,100 kilojoules per week.

Kathleen Y. Wolin, PhD, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, is co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, the official journal of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health.
Many cancer survivors are living longer due to earlier diagnosis and treatment improvements, and their numbers are increasing rapidly. “Thus physical activity should be actively promoted to such individuals to enhance longevity,” the researchers concluded.

There has been extensive research showing that among generally healthy, cancer-free populations physical activity extends longevity. But there has been relatively little such research on physical activity among cancer survivors.

Researchers examined data from the Harvard Alumni Health Study, an ongoing study of men who entered Harvard as undergraduates between 1916 and 1950. Researchers looked at 1,021 men (average age 71) who previously had been diagnosed with cancer. In questionnaires conducted in 1988, men reported their physical activities, including walking, stair climbing and participation in sports and recreational activities. Their physical activities were updated in 1993, and the men were followed until 2008.

Compared with men who expended fewer than 2,100 kilojoules per week in physical activity, men who expended more than 12,600 kilojoules per week were 48 percent less likely to die of any cause during the follow-up period. This finding was adjusted for age, smoking, body mass index, early parental mortality and dietary variables. (By comparison, a 176-pound man who walks briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week burns 4,200 kilojoules.)

There were similar findings for mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease: the most physically active cancer survivors were 38 percent less likely to die of cancer and 49 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease during the follow-up period.

Wolin is an epidemiologist. She is researching the role that exercise, obesity and other lifestyle-related factors play in the prevention of cancer and in improving outcomes after diagnosis. She also is studying how to improve outcomes once a disease is diagnosed. She earned her ScD from Harvard, and now is an associate professor in the departments of Public Health Sciences and Surgery at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Wolin’s team is recruiting colon cancer survivors for a home-based strength-training intervention.

First author of the study is I-Min Lee of Harvard Medical School. Other co-authors are Sarah E. Freeman of the Harvard School of Public Health, Howard D. Sesso of Harvard Medical School and Jacob Sattlemair of Boston, Mass.

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

The Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division (HSD) advances interprofessional, multidisciplinary, and transformative education and research while promoting service to others through stewardship of scientific knowledge and preparation of tomorrow's leaders. The HSD is located on the Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois. It includes the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Stritch School of Medicine, the biomedical research programs of the Graduate School, and several other institutes and centers encouraging new research and interprofessional education opportunities across all of Loyola University Chicago. The faculty and staff of the HSD bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a strong commitment to seeing that Loyola's health sciences continue to excel and exceed the standard for academic and research excellence. For more on the HSD, visit LUC.edu/hsd.

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