The Big Issue with Breast Cancer: How Your Weight Affects Your Risk
How to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk
The good news is that lowering your breast cancer odds is as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk at least three times a week. "In a study, we found that women who get more than 60 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly significantly reduce their risk beginning after age 30," says lead researcher Lisa Sprod, PhD, research assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester in New York. And it's never too late to start. "Even if you weren't active before that time, you can still get maximum cancer protection," Sprod says.
Exercise's knockout punch comes from keeping weight down and blasting fat. But it helps in other ways too. For one thing, active women tend to have lower estrogen levels. "It's possible that moderate workouts cause shifts in menstruation patterns over time -- lengthening the time between periods, for instance -- that may reduce a woman's exposure to estrogen during her lifetime," Campbell says. Researchers believe that working out can also reduce inflammation. And it definitely lowers insulin levels. "Insulin is very sensitive to lifestyle changes, making it a strong risk factor for breast cancer," Irwin says. In one recent study, doing 90 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, along with two sessions of resistance training, lowered insulin production by 28 percent. That's enough to boost survival rates for women with breast cancer almost as much as chemotherapy does. "If lowering insulin accomplishes that, it stands to reason that it would help prevent breast cancer from occurring in the first place," Irwin explains.
So bike, power walk, take a dance class; do whatever you enjoy. Just keep the activity up -- and your weight down. And while you're at it, eat a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables containing cancer-fighting antioxidants. Among breast cancer survivors, that workout-good food combo appears to cut the risk of death within 10 years of diagnosis to half that of women who just exercise or who only eat a healthy diet, according to research. "There seems to be a cluster effect," says lead study author John P. Pierce, PhD, director of cancer prevention at the Moores University of California, San Diego Cancer Center in La Jolla. "Diet is most powerful in conjunction with physical activity and weight control."
All this research leads Tina Mitsis to believe that even with her ominous family history of breast cancer, she's getting things right. "Exercising and eating well make me feel I'm in control of my health," she says. "I really believe these are the smartest things any woman can do to protect herself."
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