Light Exercise May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Moderately-paced walks on a regular basis can lower postmenopausal women’s risk of breast cancer

by Charlotte LoBuono
woman walking on beach
Photograph: Vitaliy Krasovskiy/

The shocking pink efforts of breast cancer awareness month hopefully have women wondering about ways to reduce their risk of developing the disease. Well, as it turns out, it may not take much.

Women who walked for at least an hour per day had a considerably lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who were not physically active, according to a large study sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

“[What] we wanted to look at, which was relatively new, is whether or not women who do no physical activity other than walking derive any benefit in terms of lowering their breast cancer risk,” Alpa Patel, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, told TheDoctor. This is the first study to find a link between walking and a lower risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women, Patel, the senior author on the study, said.

Simply engaging in a moderately-paced walk — about a three miles per hour pace — can lower postmenopausal women’s risk of breast cancer.

“Given that more than 60 percent of women report some daily walking, promoting walking as a healthy leisure-time activity could be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity among postmenopausal women,” she said.

Patel and her team followed about 74,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 74 years old for 17 years. The women were enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. The researchers had them fill out questionnaires every few years to update their health status and lifestyle. During the 17-year study, 4,760 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

About half of the women in the study reported walking as their only form of exercise, said Patel. And among these women, women who walked approximately an hour per day had a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who walked less than three hours per week.

The investigators found that women who got at least an hour per day of vigorous activity had a 25 percent lower breast cancer risk compared to women who got no exercise.

Another important point is that these results did not differ based on body size, postmenopausal hormone use, or hormone receptor status, which means that they are very applicable to the general population, said Patel.

“I think this study is very encouraging for all those women who want to begin an exercise regimen, but find it overwhelming to do so,” said Patel. Simply engaging in a moderately-paced walk — about a three miles per hour pace — can lower postmenopausal women’s risk of breast cancer.

According to Patel, the take home message from this study is that if you want to reduce your risk of breast cancer, you should be active, maintain a healthy body weight, and limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day.

The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

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