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Stay a Step Ahead of Breast Cancer with Exercise

Get moving to prevent breast cancer or to improve your prognosis if you already have it.

In the world of health advice, the message with exercise is very clear: Do it. Do it regularly and do it vigorously (if you’re able). Do it to lose weight and to feel good. Do it to prevent breast cancer, to improve your prognosis if you have breast cancer and to reduce the chance that cancer will come back.

“Exercise reduces breast cancer risk both directly, by helping to reduce circulating hormones — like estrogen and insulin — associated with cell and tumor growth, and indirectly, by helping control weight,” says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society.

Controlling your weight matters: Significant overweight is a big risk factor for developing breast cancer after menopause, and it affects how you’ll fare if you get breast cancer at any age. “Being overweight increases the risk of recurrence and decreases survival among women diagnosed with breast cancer,” Doyle says. “All of us should be incorporating exercise into our lives.”

And it’s never too early — or late! — to start. Exercising as a young woman can protect you from developing breast cancer later in life. And, with your doctor’s okay, you can safely exercise during treatment and as you age to reap its many benefits.

QUIZ: Are You Getting Enough Exercise?

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Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program and be sure to discuss how much exercise and what intensity is appropriate. Your health care provider may advise light to moderate exercise like walking or may clear you for more strenuous activities.

Move More for Maximum Results
When it comes to how much exercise you need, the message is just as clear: the more the better. (Truth is, most of us aren’t getting enough anyway.) The American Cancer Society guidelines for breast cancer prevention say we need 45 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five or more days a week.

A New York Times article on breast cancer prevention reports, “[Breast cancer] risk drops with increased hours and strenuousness of exercise, and studies have found that women who do an average of three hours of strenuous exercise a week reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20 percent.”

The best kinds of exercise? Ones you enjoy and will continue to do. Get a mix of aerobic and strength-training activities to reap the full rewards, which include increased metabolism, strong bones, better stamina and overall toning. If you’re not active now, start by taking a daily walk or swim; as your fitness increases, try out other blood pumpers, such as biking, running, cardio classes or tennis.

Exercise During Treatment and Beyond
You may think that cancer treatment is the time to put the breaks on exercise. After all, you’re not supposed to be losing weight during treatment, you may be struggling to eat enough as it is and you may feel wiped out. 

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