Study Finds Exercise in Adolescence Is Linked to Reduced Mortality From Cancer and All Causes in Later Life

Key Points

  • Women who exercised during adolescence for 1.33 hours a week or less had a 16% lowered risk of death from cancer and a 15% lowered risk of death from all causes.
  • Women who exercised for more than 1.33 hours a week had a 13% lowered risk of death from all causes.
  • Adolescent exercise participation, independent of adult exercise, was associated with reduced risk of death due to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all causes, regardless of adjustment for adult lifestyle and socioeconomic factors.

A large, population-based prospective cohort study of about 75,000 women has found that adolescent exercise is associated with reduced risk of death due to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all causes among middle-aged and older women. After adjusting for socioeconomic and lifestyle factors, the study found that women who exercised during adolescence for 1.33 hours a week or less had a 16% lowered risk of cancer mortality and a 15% lowered risk of all-cause mortality. The women who exercised for more than 1.33 hours a week during adolescence had a 13% lowered risk of death from all causes.

An effect on adult mortality held true for exercise during adolescence as well as exercise during both adolescence and adulthood. The study by Nechuta et al is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Study Methodology

The researchers used data from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study, a large, population-based cohort study of 74,941 women ages 40 to 70, from Shanghai, China. The women were recruited from December 1996 through May 2000 with a participation rate of 92.7%. In-person interviews at enrollment were conducted to assess adolescent and adult exercise history, medical and reproductive history, and other lifestyle and socioeconomic factors.

Follow-up in-person interviews were conducted every 2 to 3 years to collect interim health history and update exposure information. Mortality follow-up occurs via annual linkage to the Shanghai Vital Statistics Registry.

Adjusted hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were derived from Cox regression models.

Study Findings

After adjusting for birth year and other adolescent factors, adolescent exercise was associated with reduced risk of death from cancer (HR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.72–0.95), cardiovascular disease (HR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.700.98), and all causes (HR = 0.78, 95% CI = 0.710.85), respectively, for ≤ 1.33 hours per week; women who exercised > 1.33 hours per week as adolescents saw similar reductions in risk of cancer mortality (HR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.74–0.93), cardiovascular disease mortality (HR = 0.62, 95% CI = 0.530.72), and all-cause mortality (HR = 0.71, 95% CI = 0.660.77).

Results were attenuated after adjusting for adult socioeconomic and lifestyle factors, although an inverse association remained for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. The association of adolescent exercise and cancer mortality remained statistically significant only for those women who exercised for < 1.33 hours per week but not ≥ 1.33 hours per week.

Participation in sports teams was inversely associated with cancer mortality (HR = 0.86, 95% CI = 0.760.97). Joint adolescent and adult exercise was associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality (HR = 0.80, 95% CI = 0.720.89), cardiovascular mortality (HR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.691.00), and cancer mortality (HR = 0.87, 95% CI= 0.741.01), adjusting for adult/adolescent factors, and exercise during adolescence only was inversely associated with cancer mortality (HR = 0.84, 95% CI = 0.710.98).

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.

“In women, adolescent exercise participation, regardless of adult exercise, was associated with reduced risk of cancer and all-cause mortality,” said Sarah J. Nechuta, MPH, PhD, first author of the study and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, in a statement. “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.”

Dr. Nechuta is the corresponding author of this study.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health. The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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