Exploring the Link Between Breast Cancer and Exercise


It has been proven by science and accepted by most individuals: Exercise is necessary for overall good health. As much as some of us grumble about putting on our workout shoes, research firmly supports the idea that one of the keys to a long and healthy life is to take care of the body by moving it. Now, scientists are trying to find the specific ways that breast cancer and exercise are linked. It’s vital information that you can use before, during and after diagnosis.   


For more than just breast cancer, exercise improves health

There’s no doubt a link exists between breast cancer and exercise. In fact, the American Cancer Society now says that exercise lowers your risk of 13 different, specific types of cancer. (Interestingly, for many years the exercise-to-risk link was “inconclusive” for most types of cancer – but was definitive for breast cancer.)  


It isn’t just cancers that can be prevented; many other biologic processes are affected by exercise; for instance, physical activity is associated with lower diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease levels. Muscles and bones benefit from exercise, too, lowering risk of bone density loss and decreasing the aches and pains of aging.  


Breast cancer and exercise: What’s weight got to do with it?

In short, people who weigh more are at an increased risk of breast cancer because excess weight can stimulate production of more estrogen and insulin, hormones that encourage cancer cells to grow. Exercise is one smart way to help control and lower your weight, and thus minimize that risk. For patients who are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight makes a difference. Even if weight isn’t lost, the exercise does reduce risk in these patients.  


What is the best exercise for breast cancer patients?

The great news is you have so many options! Exercising, even moderately, is good for you, so really anything goes. Breast cancer and exercise can co-exist from the beginning; in fact, many cancer experts recommend that women who aren’t currently exercising begin a gradual increase of physical activity the moment they’re diagnosed. It can help prepare your body to better handle the surgeries and treatments it’s about to endure, and similar to lowering the risk of breast cancer incidence, exercise also lowers the risk of recurrence.  


If you’re starting small, make sure you consult your doctor, and just take a 10-minute walk every day. As you become accustomed to movement, increase your time to 15, and then to 30 minutes a day. (Experts still recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity for most adults). In time, adding strength and flexibility exercises helps even further. Find something you enjoy.  


Of course, immediately after surgery and during breast cancer treatment exercise is sometimes a challenge. Chemotherapy and radiation have side effects that can cause fatigue and pain; there’s nothing wrong with letting the body rest at these difficult moments so that the medicines can do their work. However, once you have recovered enough from surgery, consider exercise as a way to help you recover more fully – it should be part of your health plan for the rest of your life.