Many factors tied to breast cancer development are out of our control, such as family history, breast density, and age of the first menstrual period.
It is expected that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life.
While the risks are certainly high, recent studies have found a high correlation between daily exercise and a lowered risk of developing breast cancer. Just a few lifestyle changes can make all the difference.
Women who exercise between 4 to 7 hours a week can lower their breast cancer risk by as much as 20-30%.
That’s a huge decrease!
Being proactive and making healthy lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. We’ll be covering the importance of exercise and how it relates to a reduction in breast cancer development.
How does excess weight affect breast cancer?
Women who are overweight or obese have been shown to develop breast cancer at a higher rate than women at lower weight ranges.
The reason for this comes down to estrogen in the body. Estrogen can allow hormone receptor-positive breast cancers to begin developing and grow. Fat cells in the body are known to make estrogen. This means a greater fat cell count, higher estrogen, and an increased risk of breast cancer development in overweight individuals.
In short, the more fat that is stored in the body, the more likely it is for potentially harmful cancer cells to grow. Being overweight also increases the likelihood of recurrence among women who have already beat breast cancer before.
Women who are overweight and have a BMI of 35.0 or higher were also found to develop larger tumors than other women and are associated with a more advanced form of the disease. Women with a BMI higher than 35.0 had a 58% increased risk of invasive breast cancer than women with a BMI of 25.0 or lower. (1)
Studies have shown that excess weight at later stages in life, particularly after menopause, increases breast cancer risk. After menopause, breast tissues gain higher adipose content. This higher adipose content in the breast tissue causes inflammatory cytokines and greater local estrogen production. A greater estrogen count and inflammatory cytokines have been linked to cancer. (1)
Healthy lifestyle decisions at a young age help reduce the risk of breast cancer as it sets healthy habits early and minimizes the storage of fat on the body, who may struggle to lose weight later in life.
Does exercise help breast cancer?
Exercise not only helps to beat breast cancer, but it has also been shown to combat multiple different types of cancers, including reduced risks of bladder, colon, endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, renal, and gastric cancers. (2)
Regular aerobic exercise produces health-promoting chemicals and hormones that decrease your risk of breast cancer. Exercising helps regulate your hormone and blood sugar levels that can trigger extra cell activity.
Daily walks are a great way to reduce your breast cancer risk. Walking even 2 to 3 hours weekly can reduce your breast cancer risk by 7%. By increasing your weekly walk amount to 6.5 hours a week, your risk reduction is increased to 30%! (3)
For more intensive exercises such as strength training or dancing, risk percentages are reduced by an even more significant amount.
Proactive lifestyle changes early on will go a long way in reducing the future risk of breast cancer. Studies continue to show a strong correlation between excess weight and breast cancer development. Excess weight means more fat, which leads to higher estrogen production and a greater risk for harmful cancer cells to develop. Women who are obese also develop larger tumors and more advanced forms of cancer. Make healthy lifestyle changes today and encourage friends and loved ones to do the same. Hiking, longer dog walks, and even parking farther away from a store are a good start!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice; consult your doctor for further information.
- Neuhouser ML, Aragaki AK, Prentice RL, et al. Overweight, Obesity, and Postmenopausal Invasive Breast Cancer Risk: A Secondary Analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Oncol. 2015;1(5):611–621. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.1546
- McTiernan A, Friedenreich CM, Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Physical Activity in Cancer Prevention and Survival: A Systematic Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(6):1252-1261.
- Adraskela K, Veisaki E, Koutsilieris M, Philippou A. Physical Exercise Positively Influences Breast Cancer Evolution. Clin Breast Cancer. 2017;17(6):408-417. doi:10.1016/j.clbc.2017.05.003