Hey, guys. Have you ever had a moment of alarm over a pain in your chest or left shoulder, and wondered if it could be your heart? How about getting a rapid heartbeat for no apparent reason? Or you walk up a flight of stairs and find yourself a little winded? In such moments, you may indeed wonder about the health of your heart or lungs, but I bet that the last thing on your mind is your prostate gland.
Better think again. Taking care of your heart/lung health may be your best insurance against death due to certain cancers, including prostate cancer (PCa). To prove my point, a 2023 Swedish study involving 177,000 men found that “… higher cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer incidence. A lower risk of death from lung and prostate cancer was also noted.”[i] See what I mean? Healthy heart and lungs seem to help protect against PCa mortality.
“But,” you say, “I’m hardly a couch potato. Sure, I spend long hours in front of a computer at work. But I make time for some weight training, I play a little hoops with my kid, I rake the fall leaves and shovel the winter snow. I’m physically active, so why should I worry?”
Well, the authors distinguish between physical activity, defined as moving your skeletal muscles, from cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), defined as your oxygen consumption when exercising as hard as possible. Vigorous, sustained aerobic exercise on a regular basis increases your capacity for maximal oxygen consumption. Thus, the harder and longer you jog, do Stairmaster or treadmill, push yourself on your Peloton, swim laps against the clock—whatever your preferred method of huffing and puffing—the greater your cardiorespiratory fitness.
Swedish health profile assessments
As big an undertaking as it is, Sweden has been able to centralize certain population health data since the 1970s; in 1982, a national database began storing all the information. This free, voluntary program was offered to all employees connected with occupational or other health services. Each person’s health profile assessment (HPA) included a questionnaire on their physical activity (PA), lifestyle, and perceived health. In addition, the HPA recorded:
- Measurement of body mass and height
- A submaximal cycle ergometer to assess their cardiorespiratory fitness
- Results of an in-depth interview with an HPA coach.
New study taps into the data
Between October 1982 and December 2019, the authors of the new study collected the health profile assessments of 177,709 men—a huge number by any standard. Subsequent data analysis took nearly a year (June 2022 – May 2023). Of course, many published studies already offer evidence that exercise in
general has value in preventing cancer, promoting healing after cancer treatment, possibly discouraging recurrence, and aiding patients with metastatic disease cope with side effects of harsh systemic treatments. What makes this Swedish study unique, however, is the light it sheds on how CRF can reduce deaths from the three most common cancers in men (lung, colon, PCa).
What the study found
In order to equalize the findings, the authors adjusted for lifestyle habits, comorbidities, BMI, and smoking (in the case of lung cancer). Their main finding was that “higher CRF was associated with a lower risk for colon cancer incidence, lung cancer incidence and death.” With regard to PCa, the authors note that while previously published studies have shown an association between physical activity and reduced PCa incidence, their results showed that higher CRF can prevent up to 19% of deaths from PCa.
This study is not a fable, but it still has a powerful moral. Your cardiorespiratory system is a positive bedfellow for your prostate. As I’ve said all along in many of my blogs, what’s good for the heart is good for the prostate. Now I add the lungs, and restate the moral: If you don’t want to die from PCa, boost your cardiorespiratory fitness.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.
[i] Ekblom-Bak E, Bojsen-Møller E, Wallin P, et al. Association Between Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cancer Incidence and Cancer-Specific Mortality of Colon, Lung, and Prostate Cancer Among Swedish Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Jun 1;6(6):e2321102.