Women who get regular exercise (physical activity) may have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who are inactive [62-64]. Although not all studies show this benefit, when the evidence is looked at as a whole, regular exercise appears to lower breast cancer risk by about 10 to 20 percent [62-64]. This benefit is seen most clearly in postmenopausal women [62-64].
How much physical activity is needed to reduce breast cancer risk?
The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week to lower overall cancer risk . However, you don’t need to have a strenuous exercise routine to get some breast cancer risk reduction benefit. Activity equal to walking 30 minutes a day may lower risk by about three percent .
How can physical activity affect breast cancer risk?
Exercise can help with weight control. For postmenopausal women, being lean lowers the risk of breast cancer [65-67]. And, physical activity may lower estrogen levels in women, which can also protect against breast cancer [68-70]. Physical activity may also boost the body’s immune system so that it can help kill or slow the growth of cancer cells .
Learn more about body weight and breast cancer risk.
Learn more about estrogen and breast cancer risk.
Physical activity and survival after breast cancer treatment
Some studies suggest being active lowers the risk of [72-78]:
- Breast cancer recurrence
- Breast cancer-specific mortality (death from breast cancer)
- Overall mortality (death from any cause, not necessarily breast cancer)
Breast cancer survivors do not need intense exercise to get a survival benefit. One large study showed that survivors who got activity equal to a 30-minute brisk walk several times a week had a 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer death compared to less active survivors . Women who got more activity got more benefit .
Other benefits for breast cancer survivors
Regular exercise has other health benefits for breast cancer survivors. It can increase positive mood and improve physical condition and movement, which in turn, can enhance quality of life [79-82].
Learn more about physical activity and breast cancer survival.
Tips to increase physical activity
Being active is good for your health, but it can be hard to find time to exercise. Do whatever activities you enjoy most (for example, dancing or gardening) that get you moving. The following tips may help you become more active :
- Use stairs rather than an elevator.
- If you can, walk or bike instead of driving.
- Park farther away from the store.
- Take your pet for a walk.
- Exercise at lunch with your coworkers, family or friends.
- Take an exercise break at work to stretch or take a quick walk.
- Plan active vacations rather than only driving trips.
- Wear a pedometer every day and increase your daily steps.
- Join a sports team.
- Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
It's never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle
Making healthy lifestyle choices has benefits at any age. Being more active, eating a balanced diet and becoming more aware of your health can be physically and mentally rewarding at any point in life.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website www.choosemyplate.gov has free tools to help you set weight and activity goals for healthy living. Supertracker is a tool to help you plan, track and analyze your diet and exercise.
Susan G. Komen®’s breast self-awareness messages
1. Know your risk
- Talk to both sides of your family to learn about your family health history
- Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer
2. Get screened
3. Know what is normal for you and see your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn't go away
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.