Fitter Middle-Aged Men Seem to Fend Off Cancer

By Semko, Laura 
March 21, 2017
August 2015

Fitter Middle-Aged Men Seem to Fend Off Cancer

If you’re looking for a good reason to shape up, consider the finding of a recent study. Here’s the worthy incentive: Men who are fitter in middle age may be less likely to develop and die from cancer.

Man with hands on fitness bar

A fitness factor?

In JAMA Oncology, researchers looked at the health of nearly 14,000 middle-aged men. They used data from a past study that tested the men’s cardiorespiratory fitness. That’s how well the body works during prolonged physical activity. In that study, the men took a treadmill test. Those who were able to stay on the treadmill longer were considered to be fitter.

With each participant’s fitness level in hand, the researchers then analyzed Medicare data for the men when they were ages 65 and older. They specifically looked at whether the men developed three types of cancer. Those were lung, colon, and prostate.

The researchers found that men who were fitter were about half as likely to develop lung cancer. They also had a 44% lower risk for colon cancer. The same such link wasn’t seen for prostate cancer. That may be because fitter men are more apt to be screened for and hence diagnosed with the disease.

More fitting evidence

Along with a lower risk for some cancers, fitter men in the study fared better when they were older even if they did develop cancer. They also tended to die from natural causes or some other health problem rather than the cancer itself. That suggests fitness may be a boon for cancer survivors.

Past research has linked heart and lung fitness to other health benefits too. In women, it may help protect against ovarian, breast, and cervical cancer. Not surprisingly, it’s also been shown to protect against heart disease. Plus, fitter middle-aged people are less likely to suffer from chronic problems later in life. These include diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cardiorespiratory fitness isn’t something you can easily track yourself. Your level is partly determined by your genes. What’s more, it tends to drop as you grow older. Yet people who are more active tend be fitter. And the more physical activity you do every day can build up your fitness level.



How fit are you?

Being fit isn’t just about how fast or far you can run. It includes much more than that. If you are wondering how fit you are, take a fitness test. One such notable test is the President’s Challenge. It looks at 4 key aspects of your health:

  • Aerobic ability

  • Muscle strength

  • Flexibility

  • Body weight

Here's where you can take part. If you haven’t been active in awhile, talk with your health care provider first to make sure the test is safe for you to do.

Online resources

National Cancer Institute

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute


March 21, 2017


Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Survivors of Cervical, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancers: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. A. Peel, et al. Gynecologic Oncology. 2015. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2015.05.027., Effects and Potential Mechanisms of Exercise Training on Cancer Progression: A Translational Perspective. A. Betof, M. Dewhirst, and L. Jones. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2013;30:S75-S87., Midlife Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Incident Cancer, and Survival After Cancer in Men: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. S. Lakoski, et al. JAMA Oncology. 2015. Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.0226., Midlife Fitness and the Development of Chronic Conditions in Later Life. B. Willis, et al. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(17):1333-40., The Importance of Cardiorespiratory Fitness in the United States: The Need for a National Registry. L. Kaminsky, et al. Circulation. 2013;127:652-62.

Reviewed By:  

Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN