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Breast Cancer Update » Lower Breast Cancer Risk through Exercise
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Lower Breast Cancer Risk through Exercise

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Lower Breast Cancer Risk through Exercise

Engaging in regular exercise is good for you for many reasons, and one of them is to lower your risk of getting breast cancer. Many studies conducted over the past 20 years have shown consistently that an increase in physical activity is linked to a lower breast cancer risk. The difference in risk between the most active and the least active women is typically around 25%.

How exercising lowers breast cancer risk is not fully understood. It's thought that physical activity regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin, which can fuel breast cancer growth. Regular exercise also helps women stay at a healthy weight, which also helps regulate hormones and helps keep the immune system healthier.

How much exercise do women need?

Unfortunately, there is not a magic number of hours that a women can exercise to prevent cancer from occurring or to lower risk. But we do know that some is better than none, and more is better than less. Also, more vigorous activity is more effective than less vigorous activity.

In one study from the Women's Health Initiative, as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. The American Cancer Society recommends all adults engage in at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity or 75 minutes (1.25) hours of vigorous intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week.

Examples of moderate intensity activities include brisk walking, dancing, leisurely bicycling, yoga, golfing, softball, doubles tennis, and general yard and garden maintenance. Examples of vigorous intensity activities include jogging, running, fast bicycling, swimming, aerobic dance, soccer, singles tennis, and basketball. All of these activities are in addition to those that are part of your usual routine at home and work – things like walking from your car to the garage, and climbing a flight of stairs.

Limit the time you spend sitting

Another advantage to exercising is that when you're exercising, you aren't just sitting. Evidence is growing that sitting time, no matter how much exercise you get when you aren't sitting, increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer and some other types of cancer, as well as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

For many of us, working means sitting at a desk for long stretches. That makes it even more important to incorporate activity into your day. Here are some ideas:

  • Limit time spent watching TV and using other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill when you do watch TV.
  • Use stairs rather than an elevator.
  • If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
  • Exercise at lunch with your coworkers, family, or friends.
  • Take an exercise break at work to stretch or take a quick walk.
  • Walk to visit coworkers instead of sending an e-mail.
  • Go dancing with your spouse or friends.
  • Plan active vacations rather than driving only trips.
  • Wear a pedometer every day and increase your number of daily steps.
  • Join a sports team.
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