Breast Cancer Patients Could Reap Big Rewards from Walking
May 31, 2005 - Walking even one hour a week increased survival following a breast cancer diagnosis, according to results published May 25, 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Michelle Holmes of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, was the lead researcher in a study that looked at responses from almost 3,000 women aged 30 to 55 who were diagnosed with stages I, II, or III breast cancer between 1984 and 1998. The women were nurses who were enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study.
Walking (or a similar vigorous activity) only one hour a week appears to reduce the risk of dying when compared to those who walked less than an hour a week at an average pace. However, the maximum benefit was seen with additional activity (such as walking 3-5 hours a week). More strenuous activity than this did not increase this benefit further. These benefits were seen with five and ten-year survival outcomes. The average pace for walking in this study was 2-2.9 miles per hour.
The study supports the value of physical activity for overall health and quality of life, and the evidence continues to mount that exercise has a positive effect on women who have been treated for breast cancer. This study joins others whose results indicate that physical activity is linked to a decrease in breast cancer risk.
Benefits of physical activity
The study authors believe that physical activity probably reduces estrogen levels. The benefits of physical activity were seen more in those women who had estrogen and progesterone receptor-positive breast cancers, suggesting that a hormonal mechanism could be involved. Additionally, the benefit of physical activity was similar for overweight and normal weight women.
Comments from Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Cheryl Perkins, M.D., senior clinical advisor for Susan G. Komen for the Cure said, "We welcome risk-reduction approaches that women can own, especially when these approaches can have such a positive effect on their overall health."
Dr. Perkins called the amount of exercise described in the report as "very do-able" for most women. Women with physical challenges or other limiting factors can speak with their doctors to determine what physical activities may be appropriate for them.
Dr. Perkins added that exercising is not a guarantee that cancer or other medical conditions will not develop. Komen for the Cure and others are investigating why cancer develops in individuals who are otherwise healthy.
"For now, it's wise to stay informed, be aware of your personal risk factors, stay faithful to an appropriate, regular breast cancer screening program, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Work with your health care provider in determining the activity levels that are appropriate for you," said Dr. Perkins.
Read the Journal of the American Medical Association article
Michelle D. Holmes, MD, DrPH, Physical Activity and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis,The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293, No. 20, May 25, 2005. pp 2479-2486.