New reports have found that regular physical exercise, such as walking, can vastly decrease the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. While consistent physical exercise has long been associated with lowering many different health risks, including certain types of cancer, the new study linking moderate exercise to a drop in risk for breast cancer is unique in showing how rapid and dramatic the effects of regular physical exercise can be for women once they reach menopause.
The study was led by Dr. Agnes Fournier at the Institut Gustave Roussy, a leading cancer research center located in Villejuif Cedex, France. Dr. Fournier and her team followed more than 59,000 postmenopausal women by tracking their health through surveys done once every two years for an average of eight-and-a-half years. After analyzing the survey information sent in from the participants, the researchers found that only a half an hour per day of physical exercise was enough to make a dramatic difference. It was determined that the average decrease in risk of developing breast cancer for the women who reported regular physical exercise was 10 percent. However, the study also shows that the exercise needs to be consistent for at least four years prior to seeing a decrease in risk and can quickly jump back up if the exercise regimen is stopped.
In addition to being beneficial for women who are already engaging in regular physical exercise, the study found that even women who have not been regularly active in the past can still rapidly decrease their risk for breast cancer if they start exercising any time after reaching menopause and continue a consistent routine for at least four years. There have been no findings that, in these particular circumstances, longevity of an exercise routine increases the benefits that postmenopausal women are seeing.
The official website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most cases of breast cancer are reported in women over the age of 50. The age at which a woman reaches menopause can increase her risk, as there is a correlation between women reaching menopause at a younger age and their risk of developing breast cancer increasing.
The final results of this study came after excluding such factors as weight and size as well as the specific age of the women involved. Health website WebMD states that most women in the United States tend to reach menopause around the age of 51, although each individual woman’s genes will actually play the largest role in determining the age at which menopause is reached. The study also pointed out that physical exercise habits from as recently as five years prior to the conclusion of the study were found to play no part in the final decrease in risk in postmenopausal women.
Physical exercise does not need to be excessively challenging in order to produce these benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official website recommends aiming for seven hours of physical exercise a week, but also notes that as little as 150 minutes per week of an activity such as walking is enough to reduce many major health risks.
By Kerri Nehiley
CDC (Physical Activity)
CDC (Breast Cancer Risk Factors)