Approximately 14 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s also estimated that more than 220,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year and 27,500 people will die from the disease.

Although most cases of prostate cancer are nonlife-threatening, some patients are diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease which spreads to bones and organs. To reduce the risk of becoming one of those patients, new research suggests exercise may play a key role.

The results of a long-term study done by a team of researchers from UCSF and Harvard suggest developing healthy habits early can decrease the chances of developing lethal prostate cancer by as much as 68 percent.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, tracked tens of thousands of men for more than 20 years. To come to their conclusion, researchers analyzed the data of two previous studies, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Physicians’ Health Study. A scoring system was used to determine the participants’ levels of health based on activities such as diet and intense physical exercise.

Participants with five to six points on the scoring scale were found to have a 68 percent decreased likelihood of developing prostate cancer in the health professionals group. For the physician’s group, the same score resulted in a decreased occurrence of 38 percent.

“We estimated that 47 percent of lethal prostate cancer cases would be prevented in the United States if men over 60 had five or more of these healthy habits,” Stacey Kenfield, ScD, lead author of the study, said.

Researchers also found exercise to play a larger role in preventing the lethal cancer than dietary habits.

“It's interesting that vigorous activity had the highest potential impact on prevention of lethal prostate cancer,” Kenfield said. “[We] estimated that 34 percent of lethal prostate cancer would be reduced if all men exercised to the point of sweating for at least three hours a week.”

“This study underscores the ongoing need for more effective prevention measures and policies to increase exercise, improve diet quality and reduce tobacco use in our population,” June Chan, ScD, senior author of the study said.

According to Medical News Today, prostate cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in the United States after non-melanoma skin cancer.

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