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Exercise and breast cancer prevention

Often, when people think about exercise and the impact it has on reducing the risk of disease, they think of things like cardiovascular health and diabetes. Recent studies show that exercise can also decrease a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, in addition to 12 other types of cancer. In fact, regular exercise decreases breast cancer risk by 10-20 percent, the largest benefit being in post menopausal women. 

The Breast Cancer – Exercise Connection

How exactly does exercise help when it comes to breast cancer prevention? Three primary reasons include:

  1. Estrogen – Higher levels of estrogen increase the risk of breast cancer, and exercise is known to decrease estrogen.
  2. BMI – BMI looks at your height/weight ratio. A normal/healthy BMI of an adult 20 years and up should range from 18.5 – 24.9 (click here if you need help figuring out your BMI). Post-menopausal women who are overweight or obese have a 30-60 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than women with a normal BMI. Why?
    1. Estrogen – A lot of this goes back to what we just discussed in #1 – estrogen. Pre-menopause, estrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries. Fast forward to post-menopause, and estrogen primarily comes from fat tissue. Therefore, more fatty tissue results in higher blood estrogen levels.
    2. Insulin – Some studies have shown that increased insulin levels after menopause have been linked to breast cancer, and women who are heavier tend to have higher blood insulin levels.
  3. Immune System – Exercise has been shown to help boost one’s immune system. Therefore, a stronger immune system is thought to help kill or slow the growth of cancer.

And remember, don’t forget to incorporate weight bearing exercise into your workout! Studies are showing that low muscle mass is linked to worse outcomes, worse survival rates, and more side effects from cancer treatment. In fact, a recent study showed that from their participants, the women with low muscle mass were 40% more likely to die from breast cancer or another health issue than those without low muscle mass. The study also looked at the amount of fatty tissue, and found that women with low muscle mass AND the highest amount of fatty tissue had the worst survival rates.

In addition to cancer prevention, exercise has also been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer mortality and overall mortality (death caused by something other than cancer). 

The key takeaway from all of this is simple: get up and move! The American Cancer Society recommends at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week to lower your overall cancer risk. For more information on exercise and breast cancer, or for tips on getting started with exercise, click here.

Also, don’t forget to keep up with your mammograms! Our Women’s Diagnostic Center is here and ready to help you with that.