Can Exercise Help Beat Breast Cancer?

Can Exercise Help Beat Breast Cancer?

October is breast cancer awareness month, and there is growing evidence that exercise is a major weapon in the fight against the disease.

Although breast cancer does on occasion affect some men, it is diagnosed in nearly 42,000 women in the UK each year, and has risen by a staggering 81% in the past 33 years.

However, research now seems to be pointing to the benefits of exercise in staying cancer-free. Among eleven human studies that took into account many of the established risk factors for breast cancer (such as reproductive history, early menstruation and inherited genetic factors), eight reported a decrease in the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal, post-menopausal or all women with high levels of physical activity compared to those with low levels of activity.

Although it has been claimed that it is the exercise in the pre-reproductive and reproductive years that is most significant: in post-menopausal women, it still seems to help but partly because it counters obesity, another risk factor.

Experts recommend that women should do moderate exercise for 30 minutes each day, five days per week.  Moderate exercise includes brisk walking, gardening, swimming and jogging. Statistics show that only 37% of men and 25% of women are currently managing this. Physical activity may help to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of breast cancer, but several studies have also shown that moderate exercise may enhance the immune system, which in turn helps the body fight diseases such as cancer. The negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle are reversible.  Even if you have been inactive for years, becoming more active now will have a positive effect of your health.

Tips for making these small changes to your lifestyle:

  • Take the stairs.
  •  Walk part way to work or to school.
  •  Go for a walk in your lunch break.
  •  Walk to the shops.
  •  Stand on the train or bus rather than sitting down.
  •  Simply keeping active in your teenage years can significantly reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in young girls. Both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal adults can improve their odds by staying active.

Exercising for two hours or more in your teens can reduce breast cancer risks by 30% and young women who exercise for four hours a week over their entire reproductive lifetime have seen a 50% reduction in their breast cancer risk.

The latest statistics do however contain some good news as deaths from breast cancer are continuing to fall, survival rates are improving all the time and there is the first sign of a fall in the number of new cases of breast cancer being diagnosed year on year – which is the best news of all.

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