Health Tips > Prevention Plus > The Effect of Midlife Fitness on Heart Health and Cancer in Men

The Effect of Midlife Fitness on Heart Health and Cancer in Men

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men running on treadmills

Men, what drives you to keep yourself active and healthy? Is it to look and feel better? Is it for your family’s benefit? Or maybe it’s because you know about the subsequent lowered risk of various health issues both immediately and later in life? If you have not yet found that drive, or if it has subsided over the years, there is no better time to turn your attention to yourself, your health and your well-being.

New research may provide even more incentive to focus on your health and fitness. Recent findings from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, which is based out of The Cooper Institute with data from Cooper Clinic in Dallas, showed an inverse association between men’s fitness at midlife and the risk of certain cancer, cancer mortality and cardiovascular mortality.  The average “midlife” age of the men studied is mid to late 40s. Each participant in the study was observed over the course of 20 years or so.  Data was collected initially at midlife and then later in life using Medicare information.

The study focuses on prostate, lung and colorectal cancer development. Compared to men of lower fitness levels, men who were very fit at midlife experienced:

  • 55 percent lower risk of lung cancer
  • 44 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer
  • If diagnosed with these cancers after the age of 65, had:
    • 32 percent reduced risk of cancer-related death 
    • 68 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death than those who were not as fit in midlife.

Laura DeFina, MD, President and CEO of The Cooper Institute, notes that this study, published in JAMA Oncology, focuses on cardiorespiratory fitness which was measured with a treadmill stress test. Fitness is a marker of habitual physical activity and is more reliable than self-reported physical activity. 

What should men take away from these findings? “Get off the couch, no matter your age,” says Benjamin Willis, MD, MPH, of The Cooper Institute, who is one of the authors of the study. “It is never too late to get up and get moving–the sooner the better of course, but even if you are 50 years old, some moderate physical active, appropriate for your age and medical status, is a healthy idea.”  In older ages, it is advisable to partner with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Both Dr. DeFina and Dr. Willis are hopeful their team’s research will serve as a motivator to those who might be looking to make healthy changes in their lives but are not sure where or how to start. “Through this study about men’s fitness at midlife, we are adding another potential benefit of exercise to be a motivator of change,” explains Dr. DeFina. The number of people living with cancer was 13.7 million in 2012, and that number is expected to grow to 18 million over the next decade. With this study as evidence as to how fitness can combat these numbers, the incentive could not be any more clear.

“When it comes to improving your fitness, taking the Eight Steps to Get Cooperized are extremely important,” says Dr. DeFina. “Diet, exercise, weight management and avoidance of tobacco are all related to reducing your overall risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease later in life.”  Find what motivates you to live a healthier life and improve your level of fitness, no matter your age. Your health today greatly impacts your health tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

Learn more about The Cooper Institute and Cooper Clinic preventive exams, or call 972.560.2667.