Stay Active to Reduce Post-Menopause Breast Cancer Risk

Taking a Brisk Walk in the Park
Taking a Brisk Walk in the Park. Kevin Dodge/Blend Images/Getty

If you feel like cutting back on exercise after menopause, think again. A study of 59,308 postmenopausal women found that the risk of invasive breast cancer was reduced by 10% if they walked for a total of four hours per week (35 minutes per day) or engaged in more vigorous exercise such as cycling or running for a total of two hours per week.

Active? Keep Exercising After Menopause to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

The bad news is that if they stopped exercising at this rate, their breast cancer risk went back up to that of less active women.

It also didn't help if you were more active in the past decade but had cut back on exercise in the past four years. The beneficial effects of an active life didn't carry over if you had stopped exercising.
4 Reasons to Walk Through Menopause

Inactive? Start Exercising After Menopause to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

What if you were less active before menopause and only started walking or exercising afterward? The study found that starting exercise reduced risk whether or not the women were previously active. That's a good reason to start now, even if you were never active before.
How to Start Walking

Walking Works

"Our study shows that it is not necessary to engage in vigorous or very frequent activities; even walking 30 minutes per day is beneficial," said Agnès Fournier, PhD, the lead author of the study, in a press release. While previous studies showed that exercise was a factor in reducing breast cancer risk, her team wanted to find out whether women needed to keep exercising after menopause or be encouraged to start exercising.

The good news is that this amount of exercise matches the recommendations for the minimum physical activity to maintain health and reduce risks for heart disease and diabetes as well as breast cancer. You should be maintaining that level of activity throughout life.
More: How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Most of us who don't have active jobs would need to put in 35 minutes of walking to reach 10,000 steps per day on a pedometer.
More: Should You Walk 10,000 Steps per Day?

Women who gained weight over the course of the years of the study continued to have the beneficial effects of exercise to reduce their breast cancer risk. The effect also was seen regardless of body mass index and waist circumference.

The data comes from questionnaires sent out every two years to women enrolled in the E3N study, which is the French component of the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Most of the women were followed for 8.5 years.

The questionnaires rely on self-reported recreational physical activity. These were then translated into metabolic equivalent hours per week (MET-h). That number relates to the exercise calories burned in different activities. Moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking burns fewer calories per minute than vigorous intensity exercise such a running or cycling.

Over the course of the 8.5 years of the study, 2,155 of the participants developed a primary invasive breast cancer.
More: What is Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

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