Breast Health Challenge Tip #1

Exercise 40 minutes a day beyond your normal activities


Daily exercise is one of the most beneficial things we can do to deter breast cancer or a recurrence.

Women who are physically active, exercising for 30 minutes daily (walking), 6 days a week and who consume 6 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, can reduce their risk of recurrence of breast cancer by 50%, regardless of age, stage of disease, or body mass index. [i] Women who exercise at least four hours a week in their leisure time and are active in their jobs have a 30-60% lower risk of breast cancer. Running regularly after having had breast cancer decreases recurrence rates.[ii] Sounds like a good prescription, doesn’t it? And it’s free.

Exercise Regulates Hormones

Elevated levels of the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels are associated with an increased breast cancer risk, and of recurrence. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, decreases insulin and IGF-I and research shows that it improves lifespan in breast cancer patients. It’s imperative that we keep these two hormones in check, and exercise will help you to do it, along with a low glycemic, plant-based diet.[iii]

One study demonstrated that estrogen metabolism was improved with 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise five times a week for about 16 weeks. Women who exercised had a higher 2-hydroxyestrone (a good estrogen) to 16-hydroxyestrone ( a harmful estrogen) ratio, compared to women who did not. This possibly helps to lower breast cancer risk.[iv]

Exercise Deters Weight Gain

Regular exercise helps to prevent weight gain. Unfortunately women who gain weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increase their risk of recurrence. Each 5-kg gain is associated with a 13% increase in breast cancer deaths, and a 19% increase in heart disease related deaths.

The heavier you are, the more biochemical markers for inflammation you have, and the more sluggish your lymphatic system is. The inflammatory markers include IL-6, TNF-α  and VEGF. One study of 44 overweight participants compared with 24 controls incorporated intervention strategies to promote increased physical activity and diet modification over a 16 week period. Physical activity and weight loss resulted in a decrease in the inflammatory markers IL-6 and TNF-α in the intervention group.[v]

Exercise Activates Your Lymphatic Circulation

The lymphatic system is intimately connected with your circulatory and immune systems. It consists of a network of tubes that move body fluids and debris away from the spaces between cells. The fluid is cleansed by different types of white blood cells housed in lymph nodes before it is returned to the bloodstream to be recycled.

The lymphatic vessels are a one-way transport system that can easily get clogged up when there is an excess of debris and not enough movement through the lymph nodes. This is when you may notice swollen lymph nodes. There is more debris in the lymph node than the white blood cells can handle at that particular time. The debris is most often linked to a bacterial or viral infection, the presence of toxins, or cancer. As long as our breasts and armpits move, we will circulate the lymphatic fluid around them so that effective cleansing can occur. Muscular exercise and deep breathing help circulate lymphatic fluid – it is pumped by the contraction of skeletal muscles and pressure changes due to the action of breathing. Therefore, regular exercise and deep breathing are essential for great lymphatic circulation.

Make Daily Exercise a Priority

There are so many reasons to make exercise a daily priority. Find a type of exercise you love to do and schedule it early in the day. Some possibilities include walking, jogging, swimming, rebounding, rowing, yoga, using a treadmill or elliptical machine, or dancing. Mix it up to prevent boredom. Recruit some exercise buddies to make it more fun. Aim for at least four hours weekly, moving your arms as much as possible to pump the underarm area and activate the lymphatic system. Graduate to six or more hours a week if you are able.

An Ideal Exercise Routine

The following is an example of an ideal exercise prescription for good health. If you are not in great shape, start with a month of brisk walking for 40 minutes a day before beginning this more strenuous routine.

  • 3 days/week, do 60-90 minutes of walking briskly, biking, swimming, skating or practicing moderate intensity yoga
  • 2 days/week, do 60-90 minutes of jogging or running, spin classes or more intense yoga
  • 1 day/week, do Interval training, exercising all out for 10-15 intervals of 30-60 seconds each, and exercising slowly in between. Wait for your heart rate to stabilize between each interval
  • 1 day/week rest

Calorie Burning Chart

If you are overweight and want to use exercise to slim down, here is a chart comparing the number of calories burned per hour of exercise.

Approximate calories burned, per hour, by a 150-pound woman
Sleeping 55 Water Aerobics 400+
Eating 85 Skating/blading 420+
Sewing 85 Dancing, aerobic 420+
Knitting 85 Aerobics 450+
Sitting 85 Bicycling, moderate 450+
Standing 100 Jogging, 5mph 500+
Driving 110 Gardening, digging 500+
Office Work 140 Swimming, active 500+
Housework, moderate 60+ Cross-country skiing 500+
Golf, with trolley 180 Hiking 500+
Golf, without trolley 240 Step Aerobics 550+
Gardening, planting 250 Rowing 550+
Dancing, ballroom 260 Power Walking 600+
Walking, 3mph 280+ Cycling, studio 650+
Table Tennis 290+ Squash 650+
Gardening, hoeing 350+ Skipping with rope 700+
Tennis 350+ Running 700+


Take the Breast Health Challenge!

Exercise 40 minutes today and take a photo or make a video of you doing it, and post on your Facebook page, Youtube or Instagram with the hashtag #breasthealthchallenge between Oct 1-31. Challenge your friends to do the same.

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Tell us about the exercise program that works for you in the comments section below. Let’s share what works!

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[i] Pierce JP, Stefanick ML et al. Greater survival after breast cancer in physically active women with high vegetable-fruit intake regardless of obesity. J Clin Oncol. 2007 Jun 10;25(17):2345-51.

[ii] Williams PT. Significantly greater reduction in breast cancer mortality from post-diagnosis running than walking. Int J Cancer. 2014 Jan 27. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28740. [Epub ahead of print].

[iii] Irwin ML, Varma K, Alvarez-reeves M et al. randomized controlled trial of aerobic exercise on insulin and insulin-like growth factors in breast cancer survivors: the Yale Exercise and Survivorship study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Jan;18(1);306-13.

[iv] Smith AJ, Phipps WR, Thomas W, et al. The effects of aerobic exercise on estrogen metabolism in healthy premenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 May;22(5):756-64.

[v] Pakiz B, Flatt SW, Bardwell WA et al. Effects of a weight loss intervention on body mass, fitness, and inflammatory biomarkers in overweight or obese breast cancer survivors. Int J Behav Med. 2011 Dec;18(4):333-41.

[vi] Xao XY, Ni SS, Zhou J, Hu HY et al. A case control study on risk factors of female breast cancer in Zhejiang province. Zhejiang Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2012 Sep;41(5):512-8

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