Healthy Living: Moderate exercise can reduce breast cancer risk 20%, research finds

Luanne Mills isn't just exercising, she's helping researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle unlock answers to cancer prevention.  Luanne took part in a recent study looking at the impact exercise has on reducing breast cancer risk.

"We found those women who exercised enough to lose body fat and quite a few did, they had significant changes," Dr. Anne McTiernan, the lead researcher of the study at Fred Hutch said.

Dr. McTiernan and her team found that moderate exercise, which equates to 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week, can reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 20%.

"We don't think there's a threshold," Dr. McTiernan said. "We do think people who exercise more have lower risk of breast cancer and other cancers."

The study also found women don't have to necessarily break a sweat to get the benefit.  Something as simple as walking can have an impact.  Dr. McTiernan said it's like wearing a seat-belt, adding that it won't guarantee you'll be safe at all times but it certainly improves your chances.

That's not all.  A second study found that when exercise is combined with a healthy, lower-calorie diet, breast cancer risk is reduced even more.

"We found dietary weight loss, especially if they were in an exercise group as well had the biggest effect,"  Dr. McTiernan said. "Very large, very significant reduction in inflammation, in estrogen's, in insulin and in several other bio-markers of breast cancer."

According to the National Institutes of Health, breast cancer affects one in eight women in their lifetime.  While we don't know why some women get it and others don't, there are factors that can increase the risk.

Dr. McTiernan says those include women who start having periods early in life and women who delay first childbirth until after age 30.  Risk also increases as women get older along with a family history of breast cancer.

Researchers at Fred Hutch says alcohol, smoking can also increase a women's risk for developing breast cancer.  Women who take hormones for birth control or after menopause may also be at a greater risk and should talk to their doctor about their options.

Luanne Mills chooses to focus on the risk factors she can control.

Luanne Mills, U.S. indoor rowing team

"I didn't know I was competitive until I started doing this," Mills said about her passion for indoor rowing.

Mills now competes in indoor rowing competitions around the world, is a member of the U.S. indoor rowing team, and holds three world records.

Dr. McTiernan and her team at Fred Hutch are looking for volunteers to take part in their next study, looking at the acute affects of exercise on breast cancer risk.  If you would are a woman between the ages of 18 and 75 and are interested in participating in the ACE study click here

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