Exercise may be good for the prostate as well as the heart.

New research shows older men who exercise regularly have a much lower risk of dying from prostate cancer.

The study showed that men over age 65 who engaged in at least three hours of vigorous physical activity, such as running, biking, or swimming, per week had a nearly 70 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer or dying from the disease.

Although many recent studies indicate that exercise might reduce men's prostate cancer risks, researchers say this is one of the largest studies to provide details on the intensity of physical activity required to provide significant prostate cancer protection.

Vigorous Exercise May Protect Prostate

In the study, which appears in the May 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed information on physical activity and prostate cancer diagnosis and progression among more than 47,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The men were followed from 1986 to 2000 and were asked to report the average time per week they took part in vigorous activities such as hiking, jogging, bicycling, lap swimming, tennis, racquetball, and rowing, or nonvigorous activities such as climbing flights of stairs and walking.

During the 14 years of follow-up, 2,890 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed among the men, including 480 advanced cases.

Overall, researchers found no relationship between prostate cancer risk and total vigorous and nonvigorous physical activity.

However, among older men over age 65, they found three hours of vigorous physical activity per week was associated with a dramatic 70 percent reduction in the risk of dying of prostate cancer or being diagnosed with an advanced form of the disease. But the same benefits were not found in younger men.

Researchers say more study is needed to understand how exercise affects prostate cancer risk in men of all ages, but these findings show that vigorous exercise may slow the progression of prostate cancer in older men.

Study Builds Case for Exercise

Experts say the results add to growing evidence that physical activity may help prevent prostate cancer deaths in addition to the other proven benefits of exercise.

"Studies have been presenting a strengthening connection between exercise and prostate cancer progression for the last two years," says National Prostate Cancer Coalition CEO Richard N. Atkins, MD, in a news release.

Atkins says researchers aren't to the point where they can say 30 push-ups a day will keep prostate cancer away. But the study helps complete the picture of the best plan to ward off prostate cancer: risk education, annual testing for early detection, eating a healthy diet, watching cholesterol levels, and now exercise.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Giovannucci, E. Archives of Internal Medicine, May 9, 2005: vol 165; pp 1005-1010. News release, National Prostate Cancer Coalition.