"The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you'll go.

Dr. Seuss,  I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Does Exercise Lower Breast Cancer Risk?

As you may already know a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in staving off serious illness and disease, but many studies have now revealed that one's risk factors for breast cancer can be significantly reduced through exercise. How is this possible, and exactly how much exercise are we talking about?

The Science Behind the Exercise

It is estimated that 1 in 25 Nigerian women will develop breast cancer. One of the key risk factors for breast cancer is having a high Body Mass Index (BMI). Women who are overweight or obese have as much as a 50% greater risk of developing breast cancer. This is particularly true in women who have undergone menopause because the fat cells store estrogen which is believed to encourage the growth of cancer cells.

Through exercise, however, women are able to shed excess fat and reduce the amount of estrogen in their body. In the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) study- a Europe-wide prospective cohort study, the largest to date looking into physical activity and other lifestyle factors and breast cancer, researchers found that the group with the most physical activity were less likely to develop cancer by 13%.

Research studies also indicate that exercise may be beneficial in reducing one's risk factors for breast cancer for reasons beyond fat reduction. In a three year period, a team of researchers at Oxford University observed 126,000 women who were going through menopause and noted whether or not they developed the disease. In regards to exercise, they strongly suspect that other links between physical activity, hormone levels, insulin resistance and improved immune system function, which can impact the likelihood of cancer development are at play.

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Any amount of exercise is good for you, but it'll take more than just taking the stairs rather than riding up a couple flights on an elevator to reap the benefits of physical activity. 3 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise per week can reduce your risk for developing breast cancer by 30 to 40%, and preferably in 15 to 35-minute stints throughout the week (i.e. exercising regularly throughout the week rather than once or twice could be more beneficial). Moderate to vigorous exercise may include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Running

Visit your local gym or community center and see what other activities they offer that may appeal to you. Aqua aerobics, spin classes, and Zumba are all popular activities that will heighten your heart rate  and also get you out and meeting new people.

As eager as many may be to dive into a physical activity and to get healthy, it's important to start off slow and steady. Introducing a new exercise too quickly can result in an unnecessary injury or the difficulty of the activity may deter you from wanting to try it again in the future. You can successfully introduce a new exercise routine by:

Coming up with 3 to 5 activities you would like to try or can envision yourself participating in.

Seek advice from your doctor for a review of the appropriateness of each activity based on your current health.

Focusing on the “fun” factor rather than exercising solely for the purpose of slimming down or to reduce your risk factors for breast cancer.