There have been many scientific studies into the role of physical activity on breast cancer occurrence. Although percentages vary, physical activity reduces risk by around 20% overall.
The most significant reduction is seen in pre-menopausal women who do vigorous exercise. One large UK study found very active women had a 23% lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and a 17% lower risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.
Another study found as little as an hour of walking per week helps improve survival rates if you have breast cancer, with maximum benefits found in women who walked for 3-5 hours per week.
Physical activity also reduces breast cancer risk in men and individuals with a family history or known genetic susceptibility to breast cancer, such as BRCA mutation carriers. A recent study of women with a family history of breast cancer found they had a 20% lower risk if they were physically active compared to genetically susceptible women who were inactive.
Physical activity reduces breast cancer recurrence by 20-30% and the mortality risk in diagnosed patients by over 40%. One review that compared women diagnosed with breast cancer doing the least physical activity to those doing the most found that physically active women had a 40% lower risk of breast cancer mortality and a 42% lower risk of mortality from any cause.
Physical activity affects our bodies in many ways. It plays a part in how we can break down and use our food as energy, how our hormones act and even how our immune system functions. There are several ways that physical activity can reduce breast cancer risk including:
For general health and well-being, the World Health Organisation recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, physical activity weekly. It also recommends doing muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. We recommend doing 300 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly (such as 3x 100 min of gardening), which will help reduce your breast cancer risk even more. But if this isn’t possible – do as much as possible, as any amount is beneficial. And the more you do, the more it helps.
Physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym or running a marathon. If you cannot do structured exercise, try to build physical activity into your daily life. Simple lifestyle changes can make a difference. Here are a few suggestions:
Read our our blog, How to increase your daily activity without realising for more tips.
Get a copy of our Wellness planner to help your plan and keep track of your minutes, find out more.