Whether it’s walking your dog after work or swimming a couple of laps at the gym, getting at least 15 minutes of exercise each day could offer serious health benefits — not just for your waistline. And that’s especially true for women.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. A new study from Oxford University researchers highlights the importance of physical activity for post-menopausal women looking to lower their risk.
Researchers looked at over 125,000 postmenopausal women, studying their body fat composition and also their self-reported physical activity. Over 1,100 subjects developed breast cancer during the nearly three-year follow up. Further analysis concluded that women with higher body fat (average 45.4 percent) were at nearly a 50 percent greater risk for breast cancer than women with lower body fat (average 27.6 percent).
But even without considering body fat, just getting 15-35 minutes of vigorous exercise every day was enough to cut the risk of breast cancer by a fifth.
“We’ve known for some time that exercise may help to reduce breast cancer risk after the menopause,” said study author Dr. Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK scientist from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University. “But what’s really interesting about this study is that this does not appear to be solely due to the most active women being slimmer, suggesting that there may be some more direct benefits of exercise for women of all sizes.”
Numerous studies have similarly touted the cancer-fighting benefits of exercise and the link between weight, fat and cancer risk. One study reported that post-menopausal women who worked out at least 10 hours a week — a little over an hour a day — slashed their breast cancer risk by nearly a third. Another study looked at the type of exercise that is most beneficial, claiming that running lowered the risk for breast cancer more than walking.
Research also suggests that exercise may improve long-term survival rates among women diagnosed with breast cancer. One recent study found that breast cancer survivors who engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week have a 34 percent lower mortality rate and a higher quality of life than survivors who are less physically active.
“We don’t yet know exactly how physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, beyond helping to maintain a healthy weight,” Dr. Key said. “But some small studies suggest that it could be linked to the impact on hormone levels in the body.”
Currently, national guidelines recommend people get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which is about half an hour of brisk walking five times a week. Although more research is needed to confirm the underlying mechanisms driving the protective benefits of exercise, working out regularly remains an easy way to encourage good health overall.