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Routine exercise became standard of care for heart patients when it was discovered to prevent fatal heart attacks. Now it is proving as valuable in the fight against breast cancer. In the future, it may be recommended to lower risk and ease the side effects of treatment.
We don’t know what causes breast cancer, but we do know that being overweight, probably at any age, is a risk factor. The more fat you produce, the higher your estrogen levels, and that means a greater risk for estrogen-driven breast tumors. Mounting evidence indicates exercise reduces breast cancer risk by burning calories and lowering estrogen levels. The Nurses Health Study, for example, confirmed the risk-reducing benefits of physical activity during a woman’s adolescence and adult premenopausal years, showing that individuals who were very active between ages 12-22 had the lowest risk for breast cancer, even when they were less active later in life. The California Teacher’s Study found that women who exercised strenuously for five or more hours a week between high school and age 54 had a much lower risk of invasive breast cancer than women who exercised less than 30 minutes during the same period.
Exercise also benefits women during treatment. Active patients report reduced stress and less fatigue during radiation and chemotherapy. Evidence also shows that regular physical activity reduces a survivor’s risk of recurrence.
Getting plenty of exercise helps control weight, improves heart health and reduces the risk for breast cancer. You don’t have to train for a marathon or an extreme sport. All you need is moderate activity where you break a sweat. Do whatever gets you moving. Go for a brisk morning walk or play basketball with your kids before dinner. Strive for 30-60 minutes of exercise each day, five or more days a week, to burn more calories than you consume. Playing tennis or swimming consistently doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer, but staying active and maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life significantly reduces your overall risk.
Find more information in this National Cancer Institute Bulletin.
August 28, 2009