It’s a fact: One out of eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. But could you be increasing your risk of breast cancer without knowing it?
Now research from the Netherlands says women are making one crucial mistake that could be upping their risk for this disease.
Reporting at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, researchers say that postmenopausal women who diet but don’t exercise face a higher risk of breast cancer–by up to 50 percent.
“It’s never too late to start [exercising],” says Dr. Anne McTiernan, co-author of the study and director of the Prevention Center at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “Women can make simple lifestyle changes to reduce calories, increase physical activity, and lose about one to two pounds a week.”
What Researchers Found
Led by McTiernan’s team out of Seattle, Washington, researchers recruited 439 overweight and obese postmenopausal women to take part in a weight loss study to see how it affected their risk of breast cancer, something theorized in the past to be an important contributing factor. To do so, they split them into four groups, instructing them to follow one of four separate lifestyle programs. One group served as the control and maintained their normal lifestyle, whereas the other three groups either ate a reduced calorie diet, exercised, or combined both diet and exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle program.
After one year on the program, researchers then looked at their levels of estradiol, a sex hormone that can indicate an increase risk of breast cancer. While all of the participants who lost weight faced a lower risk of breast cancer due to a drop in estradiol, they noticed one important change: Those who exercised and dieted faced a 50 percent reduced risk of breast cancer.
That’s no small number.
“The key is reducing the cancer-connected hormones by losing fat,” says Samantha Olson, a contributor to Medical Daily. “Because there are typically higher levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women than other female age group, their risk is higher. Another risk factor for breast cancer is having higher levels of sex hormones such as testosterone. Exercise can reduce those risks, as researchers also found a reduced risk for those who only exercised and didn’t diet.”
What This Means For You
If you’re serious about reducing your breast cancer risk, simply dieting and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t enough, say researchers. Instead, you need to exercise too–and do it often.
As for the best way to get started with exercise, most exercise experts recommend starting with something easy, such as walking. Cooling off with a quick lap in the swimming pool or bicycling are also great ways to ease into an exercise habit, say experts.
Readers: What are some other ways you try to stay consistent with exercise?
Probability of Breast Cancer – Cancer.gov
Exercise Cuts Breast Cancer Risk 50% Better Than Dieting Alone – MedicalDaily.com
Exercise Reduces Breast Cancer Risk Better Than Losing Weight – HuffingtonPost.com