How Exercise Help Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer

We all know about the benefits of physical exercise for weight loss, overall fitness, and stress. But what we don’t know is that physical exercise lowers the risk to develop breast cancer, increases survival in breast cancer patients and reduces breast cancer recurrence.

Physical exercise reduces breast cancer risk by helping to reduce the levels of many of the chemicals in our bodies that are related to the beginning and development of breast cancer. More than 100 studies have found that exercise can lower breast cancer risk; the most active women tend to have a 25% lower chance of developing the disease than the least active women. Engaging in regular exercise regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin, which can fuel breast cancer growth. Regular exercise helps women stay at a healthy weight, balances hormones and keeps the immune system healthier.

In a study conducted by Christine Friedenreich, scientific leader of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Research at Alberta Health Services, body fat significantly increases breast cancer risk. In an earlier study, she found that women exercising 225 minutes a week showed a considerable drop in total body fat, abdominal fat, and other adiposity measures. “The fact that exercise can lead to a drop in body fat is especially important for cancer of the breast”, she says, “Since fatty tissue is the primary source of hormones that can drive breast cancer after menopause”. Fat also plays a role in the body’s immune and inflammatory responses, both of which are also involved in cancer.

How Much Exercise Do Women Need To Prevent Breast Cancer?

It is a well-known fact that exercise helps lower your risk of getting breast cancer in women of all ages, especially in post-menopausal women. Moderate exercise (defined by the World Health Organisation as 150 minutes per week) is estimated to decrease the occurrence of breast cancer in post-menopausal women by 20-30%. However, there is no exact number of hours that women need to prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society suggests all adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes hours of vigorous-intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week.

According to the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking decreases your breast cancer risk by 18%. You can decrease your breast cancer risk even more if you walk for 10 hours or more per week.

How Exercise Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer?

1. Exercise Reduces Body Fat

Being overweight is also one of the key factors for breast cancer. Various studies show that weight loss helps reduce risk. Exercise helps you to lose weight and maintain a slim and healthy figure. The fat cells in the body store high levels of estrogen, a hormone which is one of the main reasons for developing breast cancer as its levels become too high. Exercise maintains this estrogen level in the body that prevents you from developing breast cancer. Moreover, it regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle, causing your body to produce less estrogen.

2. Exercise Reduces the Levels of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are environmental natural or synthetic compounds which affect the function of the endocrine system leading to severe health outcomes. Breast and uterine cancer are the most frequent female gender-related neoplasms whose growth is mostly dependent on estrogen hormones. Hence, any EDC exhibiting estrogenic effects may increase the risk of these two malignancies. Many EDCs accumulate inside adipose (fat) cells. Physical exercise reduces the size of adipose cells due to the break-down and release of stored fat into the bloodstream. Adipose cells containing less fat will accumulate fewer EDCs. As a result, the chance to develop breast cancer reduces significantly.

3. Exercise Boosts Immune System

Free radicals are highly reactive, unbalanced molecules that transform body cells that lead to brain diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Free radicals can, themselves, cause damage to the body but this is counter-balanced by the production of antioxidants. Exercise produces free radicals, but when done regularly, it also stimulates a stronger immune system that gives your body a stronger chance of identifying and destroying breast cancer cells naturally as they begin to form.

4. Exercise Releases Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety lead to many health problems including depression, insomnia, cardiovascular diseases and in severe cases may lead to cancer.  Exercise is vital to maintain mental health that directly affects your mood and emotions. Exercise and other physical activity act as a natural pain killer that helps to reduce stress and stay positive.

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Breast cancer is a fatal disease that affects both the body and mind. From being diagnosed to treatment, it leaves psychological effects and the constant stress of reoccurrence. However, we can prevent this disease by following a healthy diet and regular exercise. Women can opt for moderate-intensity activities including brisk walking, dancing, bicycling, skipping, yoga, golfing, softball, and doubles tennis. In addition to these activities, the usual routine at home and work like gardening, household chores, walking from your car to the office are also beneficial to maintain body weight and help women stay active.  For women who are not used to exercise, may need to start slowly with light exercises and build up gradually.