A new study set out to find how much exercise you need to do each week to lower your breast cancer risk
JAMA Oncology published the study. For the study, Friedenreich found that indeed, among 384 non-active women past menopause, some of whom were normal weight and others who were overweight
or obese, those randomly assigned to exercise for 300 minutes a week over the year-long study lost more body fat
than those who were active for 150 minutes each week.
The women didn’t change their diet or any other aspect of their lives; they just exercised their allotted amount, by walking, running, cycling or using an elliptical machine or treadmill.
Overall, the women exercising 300 minutes weekly lost 1 kg or 1% more body fat
than those in the 150 minute group. The former also lost more abdominal fat
and had a bigger drop in their waist to hip ratio. They didn’t, however, lose significantly more weight.
That last finding is important because many physical activity and cancer
studies focus on weight as an outcome and correlate pounds lost with cancer
risk. But Friedenreich wanted to specifically tease apart what physiologic effects exercise has on the body, specifically on fat
(since fat levels are associated with a higher risk of a number of cancers, including breast cancer
So how much exercise did they conclude you need to do each week?
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The study found that doing between 150 and 300 minutes of exercise a week will significantly decrease your breast cancer risk
While the women who exercised more saw the biggest drops in their body fat measures, those who followed the recommended amount of activity, 150 minutes each week, also melted away some of their fat. But the finding suggests that more is better, and for preventing cancer, it may take more than the recommended amount of exercise to produce a benefit.
“The exercise guidelines were developed with heart disease
outcomes in mind,” says Friedenreich. “So at that level, they can have an effect on blood pressure
, cholesterol levels and waist circumference. But for cancer prevention, we may need to exercise at higher volumes. So yes, doing 150 minutes of activity a week is good, but if you can do more, then from a cancer prevention perspective, 300 minutes is better.”
The fact that exercise can lead to a drop in body fat is especially important for cancer of the breast, she says. This is because fatty tissue is the primary source of hormones that can drive breast cancer after menopause. Fat also plays a role in your body’s immune and inflammatory responses, both of which are also involved in cancer. “I’m sure that doctors are advising their patients to be more physically active to prevent heart disease
,” says Friedenreich. “So we’d like to add cancer to that list of chronic diseases that exercise can potentially prevent or help to lower the risk.”
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