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Regular short exercise can help prevent breast cancer

The risk of developing breast cancer increases as we age. While only one out of eight invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women aged 55 and older. Men can also develop breast cancer, although the disease is far more common in women.

Interestingly only around 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, so it is of special interest that a study just released from Oxford University says that just 15 minutes of vigorous exercise every day can cut the risk of breast cancer by one fifth.

This was based on a detailed study of 125,000 post-menopausal women and the results clearly demonstrated that those who did a higher level of physical activity had a much lower chance of developing the disease than those who were “sofa surfers”.

Generally there has been comment that the steady rise in the incidence of breast cancer in the UK correlates with a rise in body weight. Reasons for this weight increase are manifold, but generally along with changes in diet, the lifestyle of modern woman, with modern domestic appliances, access to cars and so on, means that women are generally far less physically active than previous generations.

However, Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK scientist from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University who lead the report, said that the results of the study were not solely due to the most active women being slimmer.

He said: “We’ve known for some time that exercise may help to reduce breast cancer risk after the menopause, but what’s really interesting about this study is that there may be direct benefits of exercise for women of all sizes.

“We don’t yet know exactly how physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, beyond helping to maintain a healthy weight, but some small studies suggest that it could be linked to the impact on hormone levels in the body.”
Most cases of breast cancer are driven by the female hormone oestrogen and are also sensitive to the hormone progesterone. In the study, women in the bottom physical activity quartile didn’t do any vigorous physical activity that made them out of breath, such as running, although they may have done some walking and moderate physical activity.

Those in the top physical activity quartile did an average of at least 15 minutes of vigorous activity every day, such as running, with many did up to 35 minutes a day, in addition to walking and moderate activity.
To help breast cancer prevention, the recommendations including keeping weight within normal body mass index limits of 20 to 25. On top of that, aerobic exercises are particularly useful such as cycling, swimming, running or jogging as this increases heart rate and helps to burn fat. You need to do enough exercise so that you begin to perspire and breathe faster for real benefit and also do this exercise several times a week. Maintaining a routine is thought to be just as important as the intensity.

And of course a major assistance in breast cancer is early diagnosis; so regular self breast examination is very important. If you are aware of any changes or spot something unusual, talk to your doctor.

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