Reduce Your Risk

Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity reduces breast cancer risk

By being physically active you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by around 20%. Physical activity also reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence and mortality following a breast cancer diagnosis.

It’s thought that physical activity helps lower the levels of certain circulating hormones and reduces inflammation, which can help lower the likelihood of cancer developing and progressing.

Physical activity, including structured exercise, lowers levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, androgen, insulin, leptin (a hormone associated with hunger) and certain growth factors. Increased levels of all of these have been associated with breast cancer. Being active also generally improves the capacity of the immune system to protect you from cancer.

Being active also keeps your weight under control, which plays a significant role in lowering your breast cancer risk if you are a women who has reached menopause or if you’re male.

One 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.

What you can do

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. If possible, we recommend doing 300 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly, as this will help reduce your breast cancer risk even more. But if this isn’t possible – do as much as you are able to as any amount is beneficial!

Physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym or running a marathon. If you’re unable to do structured exercise, then try to build physical activity into your daily life. Simple lifestyle changes can really make a difference. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Walk or cycle to work or when taking your children to school
  • Get off the bus or tube a couple of stops earlier than your destination
  • Workout while watching TV
  • Move or stretch at least three to four minutes every hour
  • Keep an exercise log and try to increase or maximise your move time each week
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator or lift
  • If you’re on the phone, stand or walk instead of staying seated
  • Stand while participating in a phone conference or webinar
  • Use fitness apps/trackers that remind you to move
  • Incorporate Movement Into Your Morning Routine, e.g. “The Scientific 7 Minute Workout” and see here
  • When sitting for long periods try the NHS-recommended sitting exercises

For more information on the links between physical activity and breast cancer see our background briefing here.

How does physical activity reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Watch our short webinar on how physical activity can help reduce your risk.

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