Your Fitness Level Marks Cancer Risk!

How fit you are in “middle age” makes a remarkable statement upon your risk of cancer. Fortunately, your fitness level is always changeable – so let’s get on with the empowering message.

The fitter you are, the less heart disease risk you have. Of course, you’re not surprised about that. But this study solidly expands upon prior research that confirms fitness is a marker of cancer risk. 1

Researchers used data collected on nearly 14,000 men and, after measuring their level of “fitness” (in just a moment we’ll help you define what this means for you), tracked disease and death outcomes for over thirty years while controlling for many of the confounding factors such as smoking. The end result—those that were fitter, in this case cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), had substantially less colon cancer and lung cancer. Remarkably, participants didn’t need to be crazy-fit – they just needed to be fitter than the baseline.

Here’s what the research shows about better fitness:

Colon cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in men with a lifetime risk of about one in twenty. Compared with low cardiovascular fitness—those men in the moderate fitness category had 37% fewer incidences and those in the high fitness category had 44% fewer.

Lung cancer, the second most diagnosed cancer in men, statistics were more dramatic with a 43% and 55% reduction for the moderate and high fitness categories respectively.

The most common cancer in men (not including skin cancer) is prostate cancer and the fitness improvement in middle age did not signify protection in later years.

Yet the researchers found more—The higher the fitness level of the men in middle age, the more likely they were to survive if they did get any of the three cancers measured.

Less cancer—and less deadly cancer, this sales pitch for improved fitness is beyond well-known benefits to heart disease risk. What would it look like to reach a higher fitness level? Lets look into your MET.

The measurement used in this study was METs—a unit of metabolism at rest and during activity. At complete rest, your MET expenditure is 1. Various household activities utilize up to 4 METs, while insanely demanding sports like ice hockey are closer to 13 METs. In this study, men who could exercise on a treadmill at a higher MET level were deemed fitter—it’s as simple as that. The good news? Raising your fitness level by as little as one MET had a measurable effect on future cancer risk. SO do what you can! Here is a list of activities and practical MET expenditures. 2

Polar Bear Tri

Maurer at an early season sprint tri in ME

Running: An 8-minute mile (5-min/km) burns about 2 MET more than a 9-minute mile (5min 35 s/km). The same goes for reducing a 10-minute mile to 9-minutes.

Cycling: For each increase of 3-miles (5 km) per hour, you are 1 MET unit higher in your fitness.

The faster you walk or swim, the greater the MET demand, marking that you have reached a higher level of fitness.

Carrying your golf clubs versus riding a cart hits twice the METs, from 2.5 to 5.

So rather than doing what you have always done to stay fit, improving your fitness is a goal with more rewards than merely going faster. Less cancer, less death, less heart disease—oh yes, and you feel better too. Do we have a study for that?

Dr. Maurer, author of The Blood Code: Unlock the secrets of your metabolism, helps you find the dietary and fitness habits that truly deliver the healthy life you deserve. Find out more and sign up for his regular newsletter at or follow him @drrichardmaurer


  1. Lakoski S.G., et al. Midlife Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Incident Cancer, and Survival After Cancer in Men: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. JAMA Oncol. Published online March 26, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.0226.
  2. Jette M., et al. Metabolic Equivalents (METS) in Exercise Testing, Exercise Prescription, and Evaluation of Functional Capacity. Clin. Cardiol. 13, 555-565 (1990).