I just finished writing an article on exercise and breast health (yes, I’ll post a link when it’s up), and I realized I haven’t written a post on the subject for quite a while. I think I just got tired of feeling like I was slamming my head against a wall. Tired of people saying that, in spite of all the evidence of benefit, they just couldn’t be bothered with regular exercise. Tired of doctors who, in spite of all the evidence, say they don’t want to burden their patients by talking about exercise. Tired of feeling like not a soul in the universe cared. OK, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the point.
But then I started writing this article. And then I heard from a few different people about how I had made a difference for them. My writing, my training, my own training – what I’ve been doing actually mattered. So, enough whining. I didn’t start this website for popularity; I started it because I hoped it could make a difference. Even if it affects only a few people, it’s still worthwhile for me. Back to my mission.
First up, exercise and breast health. If you care about your breasts, get some exercise. Why? Because there is a strong link between regular, moderate exercise and breast health.
Physical inactivity and being overweight are both considered to be risk factors for developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute both list lack of exercise and overweight as clear risk factors. But numerous studies have shown that exercising is strongly associated with a reduced risk. A large meta-analysis of existing studies found a 20-40% reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer for those who are physically active. The reduction of risk is even stronger for post-menopausal women. (Ibrahim, Al-Homaidh. Medical Oncology, Sept. 2011)
For those of us, myself included, who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, regular physical activity can be a powerful tool for us. Exercise can help improve many quality of life issues during and after treatment – reduce fatigue, promote a sense of well-being and feelings of control. More importantly, though, regular exercise has been shown to improve overall survival for breast cancer. The same study I mentioned before found an overall decrease in breast cancer deaths of 43% for women who were physically active post-diagnosis. The authors wrote, “The results are encouraging and it showed that physical activity being relatively convenient, easy, and affordable risk modifier that may be able to change breast cancer outcome for millions of women.”
Of course, these are just statistics, exercising cannot guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer, or if you do, that you will survive. Breast cancer is a complicated disease, and exercise is just one small factor. Risk is affected by our genes, possibly by nutrition and environmental factors, and also just plain luck. But the fact remains that exercise is one element that you do control which can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer, and possibly improve your odds if you are diagnosed.