Lowering the Risk of Breast Cancer
Recently, researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill gave us a whole new reason to advocate exercise. They studied the records of over 3,000 women encompassing a 20-year period and found a remarkable correlation between exercise and reduced risk of breast cancer.
Study participants included a diverse group between the ages of 20 and 98. They came from all walks of life. Roughly half had breast cancer. The women were asked detailed questions about their lifetime exercise habits, and about smoking, diet, alcohol, and other health considerations.
What they found was surprising. Women who exercised starting at any point in their lives had lower post-menopausal breast cancer rates. Even the women who began exercising after menopause had lower incidence of breast cancer. What’s more, the amount of exercise necessary to reap the benefits was minor – just 10 to 19 hours a week of moderate exercise, which includes everyday activities like gardening and housecleaning. Two hours, five days a week is enough to lower the chances of breast cancer by 30%. Incredible. In fact, more intense exercise did not equal more benefit.
Note the “post-menopausal” qualifier. Younger women were found to have only a 6% advantage with exercise, probably because younger women get cancer for different reasons, like heredity or exposure to carcinogens.
Figuring the Differences
The researchers used an algorithm to account for differences in lifestyles. Generally speaking, women who exercise tend to be more health conscious than sedentary women and have lower body fat, and the lower breast cancer risks may be attributable to lower body fat, but the correlation with exercise holds up. Factors like smoking, drinking, drugs, and family history were also considered. Participant records were sorted into categories by lifestyle and weighed against others in risk group to establish trends.
Because studies like this depend on memory, perception, and honest response, they can only be used to identify broad patterns, but the reduced risk of breast cancer trend is unmistakable.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps the most important conclusion of these findings is a cautionary tale about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. For us, it is good news to offer customers who are nervous about breast cancer.
According to the CDC, after non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting well over 200,000 women each year in the United States and resulting in over 40,000 deaths. An overwhelming percentage of new cancers are diagnosed when the patients are over 50.
If women needed another reason to exercise, this is a good one. Spread the word.