The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Exercise (Physical Activity)

Women who get regular exercise (physical activity) have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who aren’t active [126-132].

When the evidence is looked at as a whole, women who get regular exercise have a 10-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer risk than women who aren’t active [126-132]. This benefit is seen most clearly in postmenopausal women [126-132].

For a summary of research studies on exercise (physical activity) and breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.

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Komen Perspectives

Read Komen’s perspective on physical activity and breast cancer risk.*

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) [26]. This amount of activity is linked to a decreased risk of cancer overall [26].

Moderate activities include walking, mowing the lawn and slow dancing. Vigorous activities include jogging, playing tennis and swimming.

You don’t need to do intense exercise to lower your 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 [126].

Why is exercise related to breast cancer risk?

Exercise may be linked to a lower breast cancer risk for a few reasons.

It can help with weight control. Women who are lean have a lower risk of breast cancer after menopause compared to heavy women [65-67].

Being active may also lower blood estrogen levels [133-136]. Women with lower blood estrogen levels have a lower risk of breast cancer than women with higher levels [19]. 

And, exercise may boost the body’s immune system so it can help kill or slow the growth of cancer cells [137].

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 breast cancer risk [126-132]. 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 [139].

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 [138].

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 [140-146]:

  • 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, [147]:

  • 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 an exercise break to stretch or 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.

 

SUSAN G. KOMEN®‘S BREAST SELF-AWARENESS MESSAGES

 

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):

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

Download Komen’s Breast Self-Awareness Messages card for more information.

*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.

Updated 02/26/21

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