Exercise during your adolescence to reduce risk of death from cancer later

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Researchers have said that exercising, working out and being physically active through team sports is the best way to lower risk of death from cancer and all such causes during middle and older ages.

Published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the study looked at the long-term impact of modifiable lifestyle factors such as exercise in adolescence and the substantial public health implications for disease prevention over the course of life.

Sarah J. Nechuta, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee and colleagues used data from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study, a large, population-based prospective cohort study of about 75,000 women ages 40 to 70, from Shanghai, China, led by Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, at the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center.

Some of the information analysed by researchers included the self-reported exercise participation between the ages of 13 and 19, adult lifestyle-related factors, and mortality outcomes. Researchers also conducted in-person interviews to collect baseline data and follow-up data every two to three years.

After an average of 12.9 years of follow-up, there were 5,282 deaths, including 2,375 from cancer and 1,620 from cardiovascular disease.

After adjusting for socioeconomic factors in adult life, the researchers found that women who participated in exercise as adolescents for 1.33 hours a week or less had a 16 per cent lowered risk for death from cancer, and a 15 per cent lowered risk for death from all causes; those who participated in exercise as adolescents for more than 1.33 hours a week had a 13 percent lowered risk for death from all causes.

After adjusting for socioeconomic factors in adult life, women who participated in team sports as adolescents had a 14 per cent lowered risk for death from cancer, and a 10 per cent lowered risk for death from all causes. Women who participated in exercise both in their adolescent and adult lives had a 20 percent lowered risk for death from all causes.

Nechuta said, “In women, adolescent exercise participation, regardless of adult exercise, was associated with reduced risk of cancer and all-cause mortality. Our results support the importance of promoting exercise participation in adolescence to reduce mortality in later life and highlight the critical need for the initiation of disease prevention early in life.”

Researchers note that adult factors, such as adult exercise, BMI, and chronic diseases are potentially influenced by adolescent exercise, and adjusting for adult factors in these types of studies may not always be the best approach, as overadjustment could be a concern.

The team also highlighted that the study was based on self-reported exercise and there could be potential measurement error. Further, the researchers also highlight that they only had data on exercise and did not have information on activities related to transportation or occupation. Hence, future studies with more detailed adolescent physical activity assessments and studies in other populations are needed to corroborate their findings.