Exercise to reduce breast cancer risk (yes, even if you’re slim)

August 30, 2013 | by

Exercise – everyone knows they should do it, but not nearly enough people make it a priority. Not only does exercise reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, it also reduces the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer — one of the most common cancers in women.

Exercise reduces the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer—one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women.

Exercise reduces the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer — one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women.

Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center at City of Hope, says exercise has been shown to have a protective effect for all women, not just women who are at high risk.

“We don't know exactly why exercise might help prevent breast cancer. It may have to do with improving your immune system to knock out cancer cells,” said Kruper in an interview with Redbook magazine. “Eighty percent of all breast cancers are spontaneous, meaning there's no obvious reason for getting the disease, like family history, so any step you take to lower your odds is a great choice.”

However, a majority of Americans are less physically active than they should be, with two out of three Americans considered overweight or obese, according to the American Cancer Society.

Just a few changes in one’s exercise routine can make a world of a difference. Researchers have found that walking just 2.5 hours a week could extend one’s life 4.5 years.

Exercising isn’t just for those carrying extra weight. Just because someone isn’t considered overweight, doesn’t mean they are in the clear.

"Many friends of mine who are naturally slim will say, 'I don't need to exercise,’” said Kruper in the Redbook interview. “I tell them, in fact, you do: I urge every one of them to do 40 minutes of cardio four to five days a week to cut her breast cancer odds.”

Need some help getting started? Here are a few guidelines on physical activity from the American Cancer Society:

• Incorporate physical activity into everyday life. If you're finding you have little time to exercise, include it in your daily routine without disrupting your schedule. Take a brisk walk during lunchtime, for example, and opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. Be sure to wear a pedometer that counts your daily steps – it's highly motivating.

• Limit your time sitting. Sitting down for long periods of time has been found to increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, as well as death at a younger age. And with more jobs requiring employees to sit in front of a computer, it can be hard to find ways to reduce sitting time. But it can be done.

While at work, get up and walk over to your co-workers instead of sending an email. Take exercise breaks to stretch or take a quick walk. While at home, instead of sitting on the couch to watch television, try watching it while on the treadmill or a stationary bicycle.

• Maintain a healthy body mass. BMI is often used as a screening tool to assess whether your weight might be putting you at risk for health problems. For most adults, experts consider a BMI within the range of 18.5 to 24.9 to be healthy, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 to be overweight and a BMI of 30 and over to be obese. Find out your BMI here.

• Anything is better than nothing. Research has shown that an hour of exercise a week, less than 10 minutes a day, can extend your lifespan by almost two years. Knowing that even modest amounts can add years to your life should make the first steps easier.