Exercise Could Be the Key to Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

Oct 27, 2020 | Blogs, Exercise

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s also the perfect time to consider making some lifestyle changes to help improve your overall health (and ward off disease.) One of the most common cancers in the U.S. among women, an estimated one in eight women develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. [1] As for prevention, we know that maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake can help — and research also shows that getting exercise is vital.

Making a commitment to getting exercise doesn’t mean you need to invest in a gym membership or workout equipment. Just by getting moving a little each day, you can help prevent breast cancer and reap countless other health benefits, too.

Getting Moving Can Regulate Hormones Linked to Breast Cancer 

Physical activity can help reduce risk by regulating insulin and estrogen, which are linked to breast cancer growth. [2] One study revealed that among the women who participated, those who were the most active reduced their risk of breast cancer by 12-21%, compared with those who were not as active. [3]

As little as 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week can be beneficial to help prevent breast cancer. A brisk walk with a friend, swimming, dancing, or bicycling are some fun activities that can get you moving without feeling like a chore.

Don’t let “no time to exercise” be your excuse. You can easily build activities into your day that reduce sedentary behavior. Even doing household tasks, such as cleaning, gardening, and yard work, can be great ways to stay active and help you check the boxes off your “to do” list at the same time!

Strength Training Can Increase Longevity

The impact of strength training may be even more beneficial than cardio workouts for longevity. According to research conducted by the University of Sydney, strength training twice a week could reduce cancer fatality by 31%. [4] The study revealed that the outcome was even better when strength training was combined with a cardio routine.

Most of us think of lifting weights and intense workouts when it comes to strength training. However, there are exercises you can do right at home. TV watching is a great time to add in some squats and crunches, or you can hit the floor for just a few push-ups every morning as a simple way to build strength training into your daily routine.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight Can Decrease Risk

Another benefit of exercise is preventing obesity, which has been shown to put women at heightened breast cancer risk. Having excessive body fat can raise the levels of the hormones, estrogen and insulin, which can contribute to increased risk. [5]  

In postmenopausal women, being overweight has been shown to be associated with a 20-40% increased risk and a 33% chance of recurrence for those diagnosed. [6] Even if your BMI is within a normal range, recent research findings suggest a correlation between body fat — not necessarily how much you weigh — and double the risk of developing breast cancer. [7] 

The bottom line: Regular exercise combined with a nutritious diet including daily doses of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and whole grains can help ward off fat for optimal health. Not only do these healthy habits decrease breast cancer risk, but they help reduce your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and numerous other health conditions.

[1] No author, no date. Breast Cancer Facts. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts

[2] Stacy Simon, October 12, 2018. Get Moving to Help Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/get-moving-to-help-reduce-your-risk-of-breast-cancer.html

[3] No author, no date. Physical Activity and Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet#r7

[4] Brittany Ciupka, April 29, 2019. Cancer Prevention: Which Type of Exercise Lowers Your Risk? National Foundation for Cancer Research. Retrieved from: https://www.nfcr.org/blog/cancer-prevention-which-type-of-exercise-lowers-your-risk/

[5] Stacy Simon, October 4, 2018. How Your Weight May Affect Your Risk of Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/how-your-weight-affects-your-risk-of-breast-cancer.html

[6] Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, MD, MPH, July 8, 2017. Exercise in the Prevention and Treatment of Breast Cancer: What Clinicians Need to Tell Their Patients. Current Sports Medicine Reports. Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2017/07000/exercise_in_the_prevention_and_treatment_of_breast.15.aspx

[7] Maria Cohut, Ph.D., January 29, 2018. Breast cancer: Body fat, not weight, poses major risk. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320753#Body-fat,-not-weight,-heightens-risk

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