A new analysis of the research suggests that those who are the most aerobically fit for better heart health have almost half the risk of dying from cancer compared to those least fit. The study was published in the Annals of Oncology. With heart disease and cancer the top two causes of death in the US, the analysis adds to a growing body of evidence that people can protect against top diseases with similar healthy lifestyles.
This study focused on a physical fitness indicator often used for heart health called cardiorespiratory or aerobic fitness. In order to produce energy, our exercising muscle cells need to pull oxygen from the blood. Cardiorespiratory fitness measures how well muscles get oxygen when exercising at a high intensity by looking at the maximal volume of oxygen used (called the VO2 max).
Cardio or aerobic exercises that increases heart rate and blood flow to improve cardiorespiratory fitness includes jogging, biking and dancing.
Study authors found six studies looking at cardiorespiratory fitness and cancer mortality, including almost 72,000 people. Each study had measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of the participants and then tracked who died from cancer.
After an average of 16 years overall, the higher people’s cardiorespiratory fitness, the lower the risk of dying from cancer. This link held after taking into account body fat, a risk factor for many cancers.Compared to those who were least fit, those who were categorized as the most aerobically fit had a 45 percent lower risk of cancer mortality. Those who were in the moderate category had a 20 percent lower risk.
Aerobic fitness involves biological pathways involved in cancer prevention and survival, note the authors. Keeping healthy insulin levels, reducing chronic inflammation and promoting DNA repair are a few examples. For cancer prevention, AICR recommends being active at least 30 minutes daily. Being active is only one connection between heart disease and cancer risk.
Source: D. Schmid and M. F. Leitzmann. “Cardiorespiratory fitness as predictor of cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Ann Oncol (2014). First published online: July 9, 2014.