If trodding to the bathroom at 2 a.m. is the most exercise you get in a day, you may want to step up your efforts: plenty of research proves that staying active significantly decreases your risk of breast cancer.
While no sport or aerobics class is a 100 percent “no cancer” guarantee, regular exercise appears to lower breast cancer risk by 25 to 30 percent. And in a world where one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, any help is a comfort.
So, how exactly does exercise protect against breast cancer? Well for one, it helps keep your weight under control. A study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that women who’d gained 21 to 30 pounds since age 18 were 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who hadn’t gained more than five pounds.
According to Prevention.com, ladies have estrogen to blame for the connection between weight gain and increased breast cancer risk. Estrogen stimulates cell overgrowth, which can lead to breast cancer. “Before menopause, most of your estrogen is produced by your ovaries. But after menopause, your ovaries stop pumping out the hormone and most of it becomes fat tissue. The more fat in a woman’s body, the more estrogen.”
Regular exercise also lowers levels of certain hormones, like insulin and estrogen for example, and of certain growth factors that have been associated with cancer development, says The National Cancer Institute. Physical activity is also a known inflammation-reducer and immune system-booster.
What if you hate exercise? Fear not: you don’t need to train for a marathon to reap the benefits (although some experts say the more you exercise, the greater your risk reduction). Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week, according to the American Cancer Society.
Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, dancing, leisurely bicycling, yoga, golfing, and other similarly-paced actions. But, every little movement during the day counts. Start incorporating more activity into your day by using the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a walk with coworkers during your lunch break, or spending an afternoon in the garden.
And remember, exercise is not a one-size-fits-all. Talk to your doctor about creating a healthy living plan that best fits your needs.
To read more stories and advice about breast cancer, visit www.wgme.com/features/breast-cancer-care.