Public Release: 

Exercise during adolescence linked to lowered risk of death later

American Association for Cancer Research

Main Finding(s): Women who participated in exercise as adolescents had a reduced risk of death from cancer and all causes in their middle and older ages.

Journal in Which the Study was Published: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research

Author: Sarah J. Nechuta, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee

Background: Understanding the long-term impact of modifiable lifestyle factors such as exercise in adolescence is of critical importance and can have substantial public health implications for disease prevention over the course of life, Nechuta explained.

How the Study Was Conducted: Nechuta 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. The study had detailed information on participants reported at baseline recruitment, including self-reported exercise participation between the ages of 13 and 19, adult lifestyle-related factors, and mortality outcomes. In-person interviews were conducted 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.

Results: 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 percent lowered risk for death from cancer, and a 15 percent 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 percent lowered risk for death from cancer, and a 10 percent 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.

Author Comment: In an interview, 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.

"While we found adolescent exercise to be associated with lowered risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease as adults, some associations were attenuated after adjusting for adult factors that may influence mortality later in life, such as exercise, diet, body mass index [BMI], socioeconomic status, and a history of chronic diseases. However, it is important to 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," Nechuta added.

"It is important to note that the exercise data were self-reported and potential measurement error cannot be excluded. Further, we only had data on exercise and did not have information on activities related to transportation or occupation. Future studies with more detailed adolescent physical activity assessments and studies in other populations are needed," she noted.

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Funding & Disclosures: This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Nechuta declares no conflicts of interest.

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About the American Association for Cancer Research

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 35,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in 101 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 25 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with almost 19,300 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual investigator grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and other policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit http://www.AACR.org.

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