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Arnold School of Public Health

Researchers use non-exercise test to confirm link between cardiorespiratory fitness and reduced cancer mortality in U.S. population

March 27, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, 

A team of researchers* led by exercise science assistant professor Xuemei Sui recently completed a study that provides evidence linking cardiorespiratory fitness with reductions in all-cancer mortality. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Sui’s research has confirmed this link within a representative sample from within the United States.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness has been established as an important risk factor for mortality and morbidity,” explains Sui. “However, the majority of the studies are not based on the U.S. representative population, especially when looking at outcomes like cancer.”

The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, also offers evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness can be estimated using a simple and easily administered non-exercise tool. Their research shows that these estimated fitness levels can be used to predict long-term cancer mortality.

The authors analyzed data on more than 8,500 participants from NHANES, collected between 1988 and 1994. They estimated participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness from non-exercise models determined by age, body mass index, waist circumference, resting heart rate, physical activity status, and smoking status and then looked at these individuals for mortality from all types of cancer.

After examining nearly 20 years of follow-up data, the researchers found 455 registered cancer deaths (263 men and 192 women) from the group of participants. Adjusting for race/ethnicity, educational level, current smoking status, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and age, the scientists found significant reductions in all-cancer death with every MET increase in cardiorespiratory fitness (30 percent for men and 27 percent for women). [One MET (metabolic equivalent) is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest and increases can be achieved easily by daily activities such as gardening, mowing lawn, washing windows etc.]

Upon further analysis, the authors determined that while there is a strong connection between estimated cardiorespiratory fitness and reduced all-cancer mortality in women, the link was not as evident in men. They recommend that additional research explore this relationship. They also suggest that future studies seek to better understand the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and cancer-related outcomes for all individuals based on varying levels (i.e., type, duration, frequency, intensity) of physical activity.

Yet the overall findings remain clear. Higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels yield an array of positive outcomes, including reduced risk of all-cancer mortality.

“Improving fitness through regular physical activity can provide great benefits for preventing death from cancer,” says Sui. “Clinicians should continue to encourage patients to increase their physical activity levels in order to optimize these health benefits.”

*Co-authors include Ying Wang (University of South Carolina), Shujie Chen (University of South Carolina), Jiajia Zhang (University of South Carolina), Yanan Zhang (University of South Carolina), Linda Ernstsen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Carl J. Lavie (Ochsner Medical Center), Steven P. Hooker (Arizona State University), Yuhui Chen (University of Alabama), and Xuemei Sui (University of South Carolina).


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