Not Doing This 3 Hours a Week Could Cause Breast Cancer

By on November 1, 2013
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, only 1 in 5 Americans actually follow this advice–and now a new study from the Epidemiology Research Program at the American Cancer Society says this isn’t just bad for staying in shape.

Studying more than 73,000 women between the ages of 50 to 73, they discovered a disturbing trend: Women who walked fewer than 3 hours per week were 14 percent more likely to develop breast cancer.

That’s bad news all around.

“We think these results are very encouraging,” says Alpa V. Patel, a senior epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society who helped author the study, which was published in the online version of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention earlier this month. “Walking is an easy, inexpensive type of exercise. Almost everyone can do it. And for this population of postmenopausal women, it provided a very significant reduction in the risk of breast cancer.”

Why Walking Reduces Breast Cancer

For women, it’s one of their biggest fears: Being diagnosed with breast cancer. But according to Patel’s findings, reducing it just got easier–but will women actually do it?

“There is still a very great deal that we don’t know” about how cancer of any kind starts or why it doesn’t” says Patel. “But physical activity, and especially walking, are so simple and so accessible to most women. And statistically, they do seem to reduce breast cancer risk. So why not?”

Following nearly 73,000 women described to be “postmenopausal,” Patel and her team of researchers quizzed women on their exercise and leisure habits–such as whether they walked, ran, played sports, or eschewed exercise completely. Starting in the 1990s, researchers kept tabs on them–and by the end of the study, around 5,000 of them developed breast cancer.

When researchers peered the results more closely, however, there was a hard-to-deny correlation: Those who exercised the most were 14 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.

But why does exercise help? While researchers aren’t sure, they believe that exercise helps shift the ratio of estrogen metabolites, making it harder for breast cancer to develop.

“Past studies have found that a particular ratio of these metabolites in a woman’s urine indicates a heightened risk of breast cancer during her lifetime,” says Gretchen Reynolds, a reporter for the New York Times. “Exercise, by altering the ratio of estrogen metabolites and also reducing total body fat, may change the internal makeup of a woman’s body and make it harder for breast cancer to take hold.”

Bottom line? If you’re at risk for breast cancer, the easiest way to prevent just involves a 30 minute stroll in the park. And the more you get, the better too: Those who exercised for more than 3 hours per week were the least likely to develop breast cancer.

Readers: How much do you exercise every week?

How Walking Reduces Your Breast Cancer

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