Exercise and Breast Cancer

Cathy Thorne – everydaypeoplecartoons.com

For those of you who know me in person or through YesFive, it won’t surprise you to read I don’t like to exercise. I resent the time it takes up in my day, the sore muscles and the sweat. I am still waiting for the runner’s high, waiting for the desire to shop Lululemon, waiting for some kind of competitive spirit to kick in — nothing. But, while I wait, I still need to move. I know it will protect my heart, protect my bones and protect my psyche. But, will it protect my breasts? We hear about exercise’s role in cancer prevention frequently. Especially in October, the buzz is all about what we can do to lessen our chances of developing this disease that affects 1 out of 8 American women. Clearly, I am not a self-motivator, so I want some proof. Does exercise help prevent breast cancer?? Maybe that will light a fire under my tail. The truth is, the jury is still out, but the court is definitely still in session.

1. The study of an association between breast cancer and exercise began because of an observation of pubertal girls. Girls need their caloric intake to exceed the calories they burn in order to menstruate. Very active girls often do not get their periods until later, while more sedentary girls get their’s earlier. The older a girl is when menses start, the lower her chances of developing breast cancer. This prompted a closer look at breast cancer and exercise.

2. It is known that obese women have a higher rate of breast cancer. Therefore, it makes sense — exercise -> decrease in fat cells -> decrease risk of cancer. What about thin people who don’t exercise?

3. Among women with a healthy body weight, what is the difference for those who workout? Exercise lowers the body’s levels of estrogen, testosterone, insulin and growth factors. Higher levels of these hormones translates into an increased risk of cancer.

4. How much do you need to exercise? Ahhh, here’s the million dollar question. Women need to exercise at least 30 minutes a day to truly reap the cancer reduction benefits. This is a lot for a lazy bum like me. Even with this much activity, there is debate about how much difference it makes to the individual.

5. Some scientists contend the evidence is not good enough to prove exercising makes a significant difference in breast cancer risk. Great! I’m going to listen to the viewpoint that suits me better and hit the couch with a chocolate doughnut. Wait, not so fast. The evidence for exercise’s role in the prevention of colon cancer is much better and your risk of getting colon cancer is 1 in 20. So, as much as it pains me, I can’t deny the facts. Physical activity, whether or not it makes a real difference in breast cancer risk, is good … good for the body and good for the soul.  I dread it, but I’m going to throw on my Old Navy sweat pants and my husband’s t-shirt and move it, move it. I envy those of you with your adorable workout clothes and great attitude. But, no one says I have to like it. Even with a frown on my face and a complaint at the ready, my heart, head, bones, colon (and probably my breasts, too) will be happy.

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