Routine exercise prior to a breast cancer diagnosis has benefits

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

OCTOBER 21, 2019

Breast Cancer Awareness Race

A recent report from the Women's Health Initiative suggests that regular exercise prior to a breast cancer diagnosis can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events (CVEs) by 20%-37%. This includes the risk of strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, and cardiovascular disease. Clearly these are pretty big numbers, and those of us who were pre-cancer exercisers can feel good about this study.

The lead author of the study points out that this is particularly important because breast cancer treatments can increase the risk of these same problems, both during treatment and for years to follow. Passing years also bring advancing age, and we know that older people are more likely to develop CVEs than younger ones.

What can we do with this kind of news?

Again, if we have always exercised, we can feel good about it. If not, it is easy to be more discouraged or cynical or negative or skeptical of any studies and information that can be forthcoming in the future. We can't go back and redo the past, but we can use this news to motivate ourselves to think about our health and lifestyle choices.

There have now been so many studies telling us about the benefits of regular mild to moderate exercise. Again, no one is suggesting that you have to train for a marathon, but over and over and over, we are being told that even regular walking likely will increase the odds of our staying well. Since we already had been told of the reduced recurrence risks gained by exercise, it makes sense that earlier exercise helps, too. And it makes even more sense that future exercise is important.

There is so much about our cancer health that we cannot control. The most important thing we can do is cooperate with prescribed treatment. Once that is done, all we can do is attend to our general health and hope that this helps keep the cancer away. This includes exercise, maintaining a stable and healthy weight, moderate alcohol intake, and the kind of diet that we all know is better for us. Don't believe the hype about special diets and cancer; focus on the usual advice about more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and less red meat.

And lace up those sneakers and get moving!

Have you always exercised? Did breast cancer change your exercise routine? Share your story

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.