Exercise (Physical Activity)
Women who get regular exercise (physical activity) have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who don’t exercise [132-138].
Overall, women who get regular exercise have a 10-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer risk than women who aren’t active [132-138]. This benefit is seen most clearly in postmenopausal women [132-137].
For a summary of research studies on exercise (physical activity) and breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
How much physical activity do you need?
The American Cancer Society recommends getting 150-300 minutes (2½-5 hours) of moderate physical activity a week, or 75-100 minutes (about 1-2 hours) of vigorous activity . This amount of activity is linked to a decreased risk of cancer overall . You do not have to get all of the weekly activity at one time.
Moderate activities include walking, mowing the lawn and slow dancing. Vigorous activities include jogging, playing tennis and swimming.
It’s not just intense exercise that’s related to a decreased risk of breast cancer. Women who get activity equal to walking 30 minutes a day have about a 3 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who aren’t active .
How may exercise be related to breast cancer risk?
Exercise may be linked to a decreased breast cancer risk for a few reasons.
Exercise can help with weight control. Women who are lean have a lower risk of breast cancer after menopause compared to heavy women [72-77].
Being active may also lower blood estrogen levels [139-141]. Women with lower blood estrogen levels have a lower risk of breast cancer than women with higher levels .
And, exercise may boost the body’s immune system so it can help kill or slow the growth of cancer cells .
Learn more about body weight and breast cancer risk.
Learn more about estrogen and breast cancer risk.
Physical activity during childhood and the teen years
Physical activity during adulthood is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer [132-138]. Researchers are now studying whether being active during childhood and the teen years may also be linked to breast cancer risk.
Some findings show women who were more active as children and teens may have a lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who were less active as children and teens .
Other findings show women who were physically active during childhood and the teen years may have a slightly decreased risk of breast cancer before menopause, but not after menopause .
This topic is under study.
Learn more about early life exposures and breast cancer risk.
Physical activity and survival after breast cancer treatment
Some studies show being active is linked to a lower risk of [145-152]:
- Breast cancer-specific mortality (death from breast cancer)
- Overall mortality (death from any cause, not necessarily breast cancer)
Learn more about physical activity and breast cancer survival.
Tips to increase physical activity
Being active is good for your health, but it can be hard to find time to exercise.
Do any activity you enjoy that gets you moving (for example, dancing or gardening).
The tips below may help you become more active. If you can, :
- Use stairs rather than an elevator.
- Walk or bike instead of driving.
- Park farther away from a store.
- Take your pet for a walk.
- Exercise at lunch or take a break to stretch.
- Take a quick walk.
- Plan active vacations.
- Wear a device every day to keep track of your steps.
- Join a recreational sports team.
- Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle
Healthy lifestyle choices have benefits at any age.
Being active, eating a balanced diet and making other healthy lifestyle choices can be physically and mentally rewarding at any point in life.
Learn more about a healthy lifestyle and breast cancer risk.
1. Know your risk
2. Get screened
3. Know what is normal for you and see a health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
Download our Breast Self-Awareness Messages resource for more information.