How Exercising and Healthy Eating can Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer
Eating well and exercising regularly are both essential for maintaining your physical and mental health. On top of that, how you feed and move your body have been proven to have an impact on your risk of various types of cancers – including breast cancer.
It’s impossible to say for certain that there are specific foods that prevent breast cancer or exercises that do the same. But making healthier choices at mealtimes and getting active for at least 30 minutes a day can reduce the likelihood of developing cancer and dying from the illness.
Exercise and breast cancer prevention
There are many breast cancer risk factors that you can’t change, but exercise isn’t one of them. Thousands of studies over the past 20 years have shown that the more you move, the lower your chances of developing any kind of cancer.
A recent investigation into cancer risk that tracked the physical activity of 1.44 million adults across the US and Europe and found that those who reported higher levels of leisure-time activity were less likely to develop 13 different cancers, including breast cancer. In fact, women who exercise regularly are 10 to 20% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who aren’t active.
You might be wondering, “Why does exercise reduce breast cancer risk?” That’s a tough question to answer. Although many studies have shown that an increase in physical activity is connected to a lowered risk of breast cancer, exactly why this happens is unclear.
Some epidemiologists believe that physical activity helps to regulate hormones like estrogen and insulin, both of which drive the development of some breast cancers. This is especially true after menopause, when increased fat stores can lead to an overproduction of estrogen.
Others pose that the immune boosting benefits from regular exercise are the key. Our immune systems are responsible for fighting all kinds of infections and research has shown that a strong immune system offers natural protection against breast cancer.
Get moving: Exercises to reduce breast cancer risk
Regardless of the ‘why’, we know that staying active decreases your chances of developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
Moderate-intensity activity includes all exercises that push your heart rate to 50% to 70% of its maximum. (To work out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.) This could look like taking a brisk walk or riding your bike to the shops, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even doing some gardening or chores around the house.
Vigorous exercise will see your heart rate rise to 70 – 85% of your maximum beats per minute. Activities like jogging, hiking and team sports all count as vigorous exercise. You can also lift weights, which has the added benefit of improving bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
While 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day is ideal, as little as 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity has been shown to improve health outcomes and breast cancer prevention. If you don’t already follow a regular exercise regimen, start slowly and build up to the recommended amount and intensity of activity.
Healthy eating for breast cancer prevention
Much like exercise, diet definitely plays a role in preventing breast cancer. How does a healthy diet reduce the risk of breast cancer? Again, we’re not entirely sure.
The most reliable studies don’t look at individual foods, but rather dietary patterns. Women who eat a diet that is lower in fat have been found to have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. The same is true for those who eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat while avoiding refined sugars, processed foods and red meat.
Research around how what we eat might affect our chances of developing breast cancer is ongoing, but there are a few rules of thumb you can follow to maintain a healthy diet:
- Eat five fruits and vegetables every day
- Avoid processed food whenever possible
- Opt for high-fiber foods
- Limit your saturated fat intake to 1 ounce per day
- Enjoy foods that are high in antioxidants
Eat well: Food to fight breast cancer
While specific foods are unlikely to reduce your risk of breast cancer, a varied diet that incorporates all of the major food groups and essential nutrients is an excellent way to fight the development of the illness.
Fruits and vegetables are key for preventing breast cancer. A study of about 92,000 women found that following a plant-based diet could reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 15%.
Your five-a-day are high in antioxidants, which have been shown to prevent certain types of free radical damage that are associated with the development of cancer. In particular, beta carotene has been found to interfere with the growth of cancer cells. The compound is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, peppers, apricots and broccoli, among others.
What’s more, fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fiber. Although there aren’t any direct links between fiber intake and a reduction in breast cancer risk, it does support the digestive system with eliminating toxins. For example, fiber bonds with estrogen in the gut and this may help to stop your body from absorbing too much of the hormone, lowering your risk of developing breast cancer.
Having the right amount of fiber in your diet also aids in the digestion of healthy fats – which may help to prevent breast cancer. Opt for olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts rather than processed animal fats like butter. Plus, be sure to get an omega-3 boost from fish like salmon and herring.
Of course, there are also foods to avoid too. Alcohol, refined sugar, trans fats, red meat and processed foods have all been linked in increased risk of breast cancer. It would be near impossible to cut all of these items out of your diet completely but try your best to consume them in moderation.
Combined with a healthy exercise regimen, this balanced approach to eating will go a long way to reducing your risk of developing breast cancer.