Many studies have shown a link between exercise and a lower risk of breast cancer. As a result, the American Cancer Society and many doctors recommend that women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer exercise regularly -- about 4 to 5 hours per week at a moderate intensity level.
A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that women who got about 2 hours of exercise each day -- at any intensity level -- were about 30% less likely to develop breast cancer than women who didn’t exercise that much. But it’s important to know that gaining a substantial amount of weight after menopause seemed to cancel out the benefits of exercise.
The research was published online on June 25, 2012 in the journal Cancer. Read the abstract of “Fat or fit: The joint effects of physical activity, weight gain, and body size on breast cancer risk.”
The study looked at 1,504 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 1,555 women who weren’t diagnosed. The women were 20 to 98 years old and were part of the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, a study looking at possible environmental causes of breast cancer.
Exercising during the reproductive years -- from the birth of a first child until menopause -- seemed to have the most benefit. Regular exercise after menopause also helped reduce risk, just not as much.
If you’re busy with work, household chores, and family matters, finding 2 hours a day to exercise may seem impossible. But remember it was the consistency -- 2 hours most days -- not the intensity level that helped reduce risk.
It may help to break up the exercise in to 30- or 40-minute sessions that add up to 2 hours over the course of a day. Walking is a great way to start. Maybe you walk for 30 minutes before you go to work and another 40 minutes on your lunch break. You can add a few more minutes of walking by parking farther away from your building or taking mass transit. Make plans to walk with a friend after work -- you’re more likely to stick to it if someone else is counting on you. Plus, you get to socialize and defuse the day’s stresses.
Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle choice, regular exercise is one of the best things women can do to keep breast cancer risk as low as it can be. This study adds to other research suggesting that exercising every day reduces breast cancer risk more than exercising once or twice a week. Regular exercise also helps keep your physical and mental health in top shape. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late or too soon to get moving.
Visit the Breastcancer.org Exercise pages for tips on exercising safely and how to stick to an exercise routine.