Exercise Raises Odds of Beating Breast Cancer
Walking Just 3 Hours per Week Halves Breast Cancer Death Risk
May 24, 2005 -- Just a little exercise dramatically improves a woman's
chances of surviving breast cancer.
How little? Walking just one hour a week is enough to make a survival
difference. Just a little more exercise -- walking three hours a week at an
average pace of 2 to 2.9 miles per hour -- cuts the risk of dying from breast
cancer in half.
The findings come from an analysis of long-term data on some 3,000 women
with breast cancer. Michelle D. Holmes, MD, DrPH, assistant professor at
Harvard Medical School, and colleagues report the study in the May 25 issue of
the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Women who did three to five hours of exercise per week had the most
benefit. They were 50% less likely to die," Holmes tells WebMD. "Women
with breast cancer have little to lose and much to gain from being physically
That's good news for women with breast cancer, says Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD,
author of Breast Fitness: An Optimal Exercise and Health Plan for Reducing
Your Risk of Breast Cancer. McTiernan is director of cancer prevention at
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "Women don't have to become
athletes. They just have to get up and get moving," McTiernan tells WebMD.
"Of course, we advise them to start
slowly. Most women are debilitated after cancer treatment, so they need to
take it easy at first as they become active again."
Vigorous Exercise Not Bad -- but Not Necessary
Holmes and colleagues found that compared with women who did not get at
least an hour of walking each week:
- Women with 1 to 3 hours of weekly walking cut their risk of breast cancer
death by 20%.
- Women with 3 to 5 hours of weekly walking cut their risk of breast cancer
death by 50%.
- Women with 5 to 8 hours of weekly walking cut their risk of breast cancer
death by 44%.
- Women with more than 8 hours of weekly walking cut their risk of breast
cancer death by 40%.
Holmes notes that there is no reason for women with breast cancer to avoid
vigorous physical activity if they enjoy it.
On the other hand, women should be encouraged to hear that moderate exercise
has maximum benefits, says Pamela N. Munster, MD, assistant professor at
Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.
"I don't want women with breast cancer to think, 'There is no way in
hell I can do that,'" Munster tells WebMD. "Everyone can walk a couple
of times a week. It is highly encouraging to see you can do moderate exercise
and see a benefit for breast cancer."
And simple survival isn't the only benefit.
"We know from other studies that physically active women with breast
cancer have better mood, better body image, and better self-esteem," Holmes
says. "And this level of exercise fights heart disease and diabetes --
which women with breast cancer can still get."
McTiernan notes that women should not wait until they have breast cancer to
become physically active. Moderate exercise, she notes, cuts a woman's risk of
getting breast cancer in the first place.