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Researchers Continue to Investigate Link between Diet and Cancer (dateline January 6, 2008)

Does diet or exercise influence a person's risk of dying from cancer? It is a question that researchers have been struggling with for years. The scientific data are mixed. While maintaining a low-fat diet and exercising regularly have been shown to provide several health benefits, including decreasing the risk of heart disease, whether a certain diet or hitting the gym can reduce the risk of dying. Now, two new studies add fuel to the fire. Both studies suggest that people who follow Mediterranean diets or exercise regularly may be less likely to die from cancer compared to sedentary people or those who follow other diets.

In the first study, researchers Panagiota Mitrou from the University of Cambridge and colleagues examined whether a diet consisting mainly of vegetables, legumes, fruit, fish and whole grains-a so-called Mediterranean diet-can affect cancer survivorship. Study participants included over 214,000 men and 166,000 women who were enrolled in the National Institutes of Health Diet and Health Study.

The study results appear to support maintaining a Mediterranean diet, which also consists of fiber and low amounts of saturated fats. The researchers found that people followed such a diet were less likely to die from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, during five years of observation.

In the second study, Michael Leitzmann of the National Cancer Institute and colleagues investigated the relationship between national exercise recommendations and mortality in nearly 253,000 people participating in the same study as Dr. Mitrou's research. U.S. national exercise guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

The study results suggest that exercise can lower the risk of death. In the study, people who performed moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes nearly every day were 27% less likely to die during the period studied. Moreover, the study appears to suggest that people do not necessarily need to follow national exercise guidelines to reap the benefits. In the study, people who exercised vigorously for at least 20 minutes three times per week were 32% less likely to die compared to their sedentary counterparts.

Results of both studies must be confirmed in additional research but provide more insight into a connection between diet, exercise, and death.

Additional Resources and References

  • The study, "Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Prediction of All-Cause Mortality in a US Population," was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol 167, No. 22. An abstracat of the study was available online at
  • The study, "Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality," was also published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol 167, No 22,
  • The March 31, 2006 report, "Study Questions Health Benefits of Low-Fat Diet, but Offers Some Positive News About Breast Cancer Risk," is available at