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Vigorous exercise could help prevent prostate cancer, Harvard study finds

Don’t cancel that gym membership just yet.

In a new study out of the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers found that men who do long-term vigorous exercise, like running, biking, or swimming, are less likely to develop advanced and lethal prostate cancer.

“Physical activity has many health benefits, and we want men to take away that prostate cancer prevention might be another reason to lead a healthy lifestyle that includes vigorous physical activity,” Claire Pernar, lead author of the study and a research fellow at the Chan School of Public Health, said in a telephone interview.


Some previous studies have found a similar correlation between exercise and the development of prostate cancer, but others have found no link, Pernar said.

In this study, which was published last month in European Urology, researchers used information about the physical activity, diet, and health of about 49,000 healthy men between the ages of 40 and 75 who enrolled in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study in 1986.

The researchers used data collected from questionnaires the men filled out through 2012, but they were also able to obtain additional information by more sophisticated means, like collecting tissue samples during surgery. About 6,400 of the men in the study developed prostate cancer, Pernar said.

The research showed that the men who engaged most frequently in the highest category of physical activity in the long-run had a 30 percent lower risk of developing advanced prostate cancer and a 25 percent lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer compared to men who did the least vigorous activity, Pernar said.

Additionally, the study showed that a greater level of physical activity over time means a lower risk of developing prostate cancer with TMPRSS2:ERG, a gene fusion that results in a molecular subtype of the cancer that makes up about half of all cases, Pernar said.


“This type of prostate cancer is affected by insulin, growth factors, and other metabolic factors, which could explain the link between physical activity and lower risk of cancer with this subtype,” Pernar said. “This is one of the first studies to identify this relationship ... so we need additional studies to confirm this finding.”

Andres Picon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @andpicon.