Exercise lowers post menopausal breast cancer risk

November 5, 2008

Breast cancer is a serious concern for women, and anything we can do to minimise that risk has got to be good news – especially when it’s natural, and free. An eleven year follow up study from the National Cancer Institute in the USA on over 23,000 women, appears to suggests that women who reported the highest levels of physical activity had an almost 20% lower risk of breast cancer compared with women who exercised the least. Two pointers here: the activity has to be vigorous or it appears to have no influence on reducing the risk, and the benefits were seen only in women who were fairly slim. As postmenopausal women have a tendency to put on weight, it seems as though combining exercise with a sensible diet might also be in order.

The survey defined vigorous activity to include scrubbing floors, chopping wood, and running or fast jogging. Though obviously not at the same time – how many women in the States still chop wood? They also defined non-vigorous exercise as activities including washing clothes, lawn mowing, and walking. They obviously have much more powerful lawn powers in the US that do all the work for you, rather than the old push-me pull-you mowers of my childhood which no one could define as non-vigorous as the aching back and arms afterwards would testify.

The message is clear; if you want to avoid post-menopausal breast cancer – especially if you have any history of it in your family – you could start by walking briskly to the nearest salsa class and then jogging home.


If you are thinking of taking up running the marathon – as many do to help breast cancer charities – then please approach with caution and do it under professional supervision. Why? Well, there is now accumulating evidence from recent studies that pushing your body to run 26.2 miles can cause at least minor injury to your heart.

Dr Arthur Siege is director of internal medicine at Harvard’s McLean Hospital in, Massachusetts – and he has run 20 marathons. He is the ideal man to study the subject and he has published many studies on the health consequences of marathons. His main conclusions that you might want to think about before you strap on the running shoes are that the physical effects of running a marathon include changes in your immune system and kidney function, but obviously your muscles take the worst punishment. The further you run then your muscles stiffen and this can result in injury-signalling enzymes leaking through the heart membrane, and that is consistent with significant stress on the heart.


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