Daily Walk May Cut Your Breast Cancer Risk


Older women who walk every day may reduce their risk of developing
breast cancer. And those who exercise vigorously may get even more
protection, according to new research.

The study of more than
73,000 postmenopausal women found that walking
at a moderate pace for an hour a day was associated with a 14 percent
reduced breast cancer risk, compared to leading a sedentary lifestyle.
An hour or more of daily strenuous physical activity was associated with
a 25 percent reduced risk, the study found.

This is welcome news for women who aren’t very athletic.

“The nice message here is, you don’t have to go out and run a
marathon to lower your breast cancer risk,” said study researcher Alpa
Patel, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, which
funded the study.

“Go for a nice, leisurely walk an hour a day to lower risk,” Patel advised.

Breast cancer is the leading cancer among women. In the United
States, about one in eight women will develop the disease in her

The women who reported moderate exercise walked about three miles an
hour, or about a 20-minute mile. The more vigorous exercisers
participated in such activities as fast walking — about 4.5 miles in an
hour, the equivalent of a light jog, Patel said — moderate cycling or
lap swimming.

For the study, published online Oct. 4 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention,
Patel and her team identified more than 73,000 women past menopause who
were enrolled in an American Cancer Society study on cancer incidence.

When they enrolled in 1992, the average age was nearly 63. The women
completed a questionnaire about medical, environmental and demographic
factors at the start and repeated the reports every two years between
1997 and 2009. The study participants also reported on their physical
activity and time spent sitting, including watching television and
reading, and reported any diagnosis of breast cancer.

During the follow-up, which was roughly 14 years, 4,760 women developed breast cancer.

The researchers compared the exercise habits of women who developed
breast cancer and those who did not. About 9 percent never participated
in physical activity, while about half reported walking as their sole

Those who walked seven hours or more a week, even without engaging in
other recreational physical activity, reaped protective benefits
compared to those who walked three hours or less a week.

The message is encouraging, Patel said.

However, the study only found an association between moderate
exercise and reduced breast cancer risk, not a direct cause-and-effect

While other studies have found that exercise lowered risk of breast
cancer more for women with a lower body mass index (BMI) — a calculation
of body fat based on height and weight — this study found the effect
held regardless of BMI, weight gain in adulthood or use of
postmenopausal hormone therapy.

Other studies have found a link between time spent sitting and breast cancer risk, but Patel’s group did not find this link.

This is “a good news study for women,” said another cancer expert, Dr. Laura Kruper, who was not involved with the research.

The findings add to the accumulating evidence about exercise lowering
breast cancer risk, and present a goal that is reachable for most
women, said Kruper, co-director of the breast cancer program at the City
of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

“This is something nearly every woman can do,” Kruper said of exercising moderately for an hour daily.

“This is not running a marathon,” she said.

Her advice to sedentary women who want to reduce their breast cancer
risk: “If you get off the couch and walk around, it would help.”

Why does exercise appear to lower breast cancer risk? The mechanism
is mostly hormonal, Patel said. Breast cancer risk is affected by
lifetime exposure to estrogen, with more exposure increasing risk.
Older, physically active women have lower levels of estrogen than their
sedentary peers.

Besides exercising, women who want to reduce breast cancer risk
should maintain a healthy body weight, Patel said, and if they drink,
they should limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one daily.

More information

To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.


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