It’s no secret that practicing a healthy lifestyle can help you live longer and feel better. Exercise and a nutritious diet are always wise decisions. However, can it negate the higher risk that some people have?
For instance, adults who experienced cancer as a child have an increased risk of death. That’s because cancer, especially some forms of pediatric cancer, is deadly and has a nasty habit of showing back up again, even years after initial treatment. If the disease doesn’t return, there are still lifelong effects from some treatments. Radiation, chemotherapy and other medications can impact overall health for the rest of a patient’s life.
Investigators from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, as well as other hospitals and treatment centers around the US, Canada, and Norway, conducted a study of 15,450 adults who had been diagnosed with pediatric cancer between 1970 and 1999. The participants were enrolled in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.
Patients self-reported the amount of exercise they did and how vigorous it was. They used “metabolic task equivalent” hours which measures the intensity of a task as compared to sitting quietly. While any exercise is better than none at all, the study focused on patients who reported vigorous exercise. During the first follow-up in about ten years, there had been 120 deaths from recurrent or primary cancers; however, the rates were lower for patients who exercised.
The numbers at the fifteen-year mark showed the differences in death rates as related to exercise levels. Participants who did not exercise at all had an all-cause mortality rate of 11.7%. Those spent 3 to 6 metabolic equivalent task hours per week had a reduced rate of 8.6% mortality. The best results were in the group of patients who reported 9 to 12 hours of exercise per week. Those patients had a mortality rate of only 7.4%. Interestingly, when the amount of exercise stated was 15 to 21 hours per week, the mortality rate was higher than the 9-12 set, coming in at 8%. The younger a person was when they got their cancer diagnosis, the lower the mortality rate was in those who exercised. Overall, there was a 40% reduction in deaths in patients who were active compared to their study counterparts who were not active.
It’s important to note that the exercise was self-reported by patients. No verification was made and hours of activity in studies like this can sometimes be inaccurate. On the whole, most cancer survivors of any age tend to have better lifestyle habits regarding diet, smoking, and fitness. The researchers wrote, “Our findings indicate that regular vigorous exercise, as well as an increase in exercise, is associated with significant reductions in the risk of mortality in adult survivors of childhood cancer. These findings may be of importance for the large and rapidly growing global population of adult survivors of childhood cancer at substantially higher risk of mortality due to multiple competing risks."