Carolyn McAnlis, Dietitian and Pink Hope Ambassador, discusses the many benefits of exercise.
Next to not smoking, getting regular physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health. Any amount of exercise is better than none.
Harvard University School of Public Health
Modern technology has given us the convenience to sit most of the day, order groceries to be delivered, wash clothes and dishes with machines, and buy ready-made meals. Often, working (and sitting) all day means that we need to create time for purposeful exercise.
Exercise has numerous benefits, which include maintaining a healthy blood pressure, healthy weight, and improving cardiovascular fitness and immune function. It can also prevent strokes, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression. Further, it can help you sleep better at night and give you more energy during the day.
Beyond these benefits for the general population, exercise has been proven to reduce cancer risk, specifically in breast and colon cancers. By staying active, you are reducing the risk of obesity, insulin resistance (which leads to type 2 diabetes), chronic inflammation, and higher hormone levels. All of these are factors that increase the average woman’s risk of breast cancer. By staying active, you can reduce the risks of these disorders, subsequently reducing your risk of breast and colon cancer.
Because obesity leads to many of these factors that increase risk, maintaining a healthy weight through exercise is a key point. Avoiding weight gain keeps hormone levels low and stable, which means there is less oestrogen in the body – higher oestrogen leads to an increased risk. An article written for Cancer.Net explains that, “research shows that women who exercise at moderate-to-vigorous levels for more than three hours per week have a 30% to 40% lower risk of breast cancer. This result held true for all women, regardless of their family history or risk level of breast cancer.” So, even though we are at high risk due to family history and/or positive BRCA gene mutations, staying active can reduce our risk just the same as those who are not deemed high risk.
Exercise even seems to play a role in breast cancer survival after diagnosis and in post-operative recovery for those of us who choose to undergo preventive risk-reducing surgery. Dr Marina Reeves, National Breast Cancer Foundation Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Cancer Prevention Research Centre, stated that, “Where there’s…evidence for a benefit with breast cancer survival is with exercise. It helps to reduce levels of inflammatory chemicals and insulin, a hormone which can promote cancer, and these effects are independent of weight loss.” Staying active after a breast cancer diagnosis seems to increase the likelihood of survival.
Physical activity also shows benefits in post-surgical patient outcomes in addition to survival. If you are planning risk-reducing surgery in the future, speak to your doctor about how much activity you can do after the procedure. A gradual increase of exercise can help relieve pain, improve flexibility, and maintain fitness and immune function in order to potentially speed up the healing process and return to normal function faster.
Keep in mind
– Maintaining a healthy weight is key to avoid many factors that increase risk of breast and colon cancer; if you are overweight, speak to your doctor or dietitian about starting a weight-loss program
– Aim for a total of 3 hours of exercise per week, and try to decrease your time sitting down (watching TV, computer time, etc)
– No gym membership needed – get outside! Go for long hikes with your family or ride a bicycle to work
– Make it social – join a fitness class with a friend or plan to take walks together
Harvard School of Public Health: “The Benefits of Physical Activity”
Cancer.Net: “Physical Activity and Cancer Risk”
Sydney Morning Herald: “Why Keeping Off the Kilos Reduces Cancer Risk”: