FIVE TIMES A WEEK The benefits of regularly walking at slightly faster than average pace, or running, are real.
The benefits of exercise in preventing breast cancer, during treatment and to reduce the risk of recurrence
This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, during which individuals, clubs, schools and workplaces all over the world are being asked to raise awareness of breast cancer by hosting coffee mornings to raise funds for research and services.
Statistically, one in ten Irish women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the Irish Cancer Society – that equates to eight women every day.
The Irish Cancer Society held its Cups Against Breast Cancer coffee mornings last week, and the National Breast Cancer Research Institute has regular fundraising events throughout the year, including the Mayo Pink Ribbon Cycle on the May Bank Holiday weekend. Both organisations do great work in funding research into breast cancer, as well as providing much-needed support services to those affected.
Having already put a few bob in the tin, perhaps I should do my bit to raise some awareness. I find the concept of ‘raising awareness’ of cancer a strange thing, everyone has heard of it and most of us know at least one person who has had a cancer diagnosis at some point. So instead, I am going to look at the benefits of exercise in preventing breast cancer, during treatment and to reduce the risk of recurrence. Let’s raise the awareness of how you can help yourself.
The relationship between physical activity and cancer has been shown in numerous studies, with the American Cancer Society estimating that around one-third of all cancer-related deaths are a result of inactivity, high-calorie diet and excessive weight. Several studies have shown that physical activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in pre- and post-menopausal women, with the risk reduction in physically active women in the range of 25-30 percent.
The guidelines suggest that at least 30 minutes of exercise on five days a week lowers the risk of developing breast cancer, but that doing 45-60 minutes five days a week lowers the risk further. There appears to be more benefit to doing moderate intensity exercise than low intensity and, those who lose weight as a result of their exercise regime seem to lower their risk even further.
If exercise can assist in preventing breast cancer, can it also help during treatment? Several studies have shown that exercise during chemo- or radiotherapy results in improved quality of life, improved social functioning and less fatigue. Once again, these positive results are more pronounced when the exercise is moderate to vigorous, rather than low intensity.
There is also evidence to support the benefit of exercise after successful treatment, as it lowers the risk of recurrence and increases survival rates. One study reported an improvement in quality of life, cardiorespiratory fitness, physical function and fatigue in breast cancer survivors. It appears again that the greatest benefit occurs in women who get three to five hours of moderate intensity exercise per week.
The beauty of exercise and its effects on breast cancer then, would appear to be in its simplicity. For prevention, during and after treatment, the biggest benefits come from doing three to five hours of moderate intensity exercise across the week. For most people that equates to walking at slightly faster than average pace, but studies have shown that aerobic running is equally beneficial.
The benefits of resistance training in facilitating weight loss for women are well known. When we consider that weight loss has a positive effect on reducing the risk of breast cancer, it is advisable to include some resistance training each week as well.
There is no great surprise to me that, in doing my bit to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity in combating breast cancer, I have just written something that could be rehashed for the heart foundation, diabetes groups and stroke awareness. Physical activity may not be the only answer to all our health concerns, but it is universally beneficial to all health complaints. And I think we should all be raising awareness of that.
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.