Eluned Hughes, Head of Public Health for Breast Cancer Now, tells us how regular physical activity can reduce our breast cancer risk.

Monday 17 October 2016      Health information blog
Raise your pulse, reduce your risk

The women of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month M&S activewear campaign

We all know that keeping active is good for our health, but did you also know it can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by at least 20 per cent?

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re working with our partner M&S to share this important message and help more women take the first step to being more active, whatever their age.

We asked our Head of Public Health, Eluned Hughes, to explain the science behind reducing your risk of breast cancer and how to make regular physical activity part of your life.

How much can I reduce my risk of breast cancer by being physically active?

After reviewing the best scientific evidence and consulting with experts, we estimate that women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by at least 20 per cent by being active for 30 minutes every day.

How much activity do I need to do?

To reduce your risk of breast cancer, you need to be physically active on a regular basis. That means exercising for a total of at least 30 minutes a day, or a total of 3.5 hours a week. The 30 minutes doesn’t have to be in one go; you could break it up throughout the day.

It’s also important to remember that to keep your risk of breast cancer down, you’ll need to keep active throughout your life. We suggest you incorporate physical activity into your day-to-day routine, so it’s a change for good.

I hate exercise! What do I have to do?

There are lots of different ways to be physically active; it’s not all about working up a sweat in the gym or heading out for a long run. In fact, anything that’s moderate intensity or higher will reduce your risk, as long as you do it for at least 30 minutes a day.

Moderate physical activity should make you warmer and breathe harder and make your heart beat faster, but you shouldn’t be so puffed out that you couldn’t carry on a conversation. So you can use your physical activity time not only to reduce your risk of breast cancer, but also to catch up on the gossip with friends! There are so many activities to choose from, most of which are free to do.

Here are some ideas of activities that fit into daily life:

  • Brisk walk to work or the shops
  • Push a baby buggy, pram or wheelchair
  • Mow the lawn
  • Do some gardening
  • Wash (and wax) the car
  • Get vacuuming
  • Paint and decorate a room
  • Clear away leaves or sweep the paths
  • Walk up the stairs
  • Take the dog for a walk

Other activities you can try:

  • Go for a brisk walk in the park
  • Join a running club
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Go for a swim
  • Do an exercise video
  • Do a quick gym session
  • Try a new exercise class
  • Try power yoga
  • Try a park boot camp
  • Give Zumba a go

Remember, you’re more likely to stick with being active if you find something you enjoy. Why not try a few different options, or enlist a friend to give them a go with you?

How does being active reduce my risk of breast cancer?

We don’t yet know for sure. We do know that maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce risk, so physical activity may reduce breast cancer risk by helping us do this. Some studies have shown that physical activity may reduce levels of oestrogen in the body – a hormone which is known to encourage the growth of some breast cancers. Other studies have shown that physical activity might help our bodies respond well to insulin which may also help breast cancers to grow.

I’ve had breast cancer. Can being physically active help me too?

Yes, it can still help you.

Research suggests that regular physical activity can improve your chances of survival following a breast cancer diagnosis. There is also some evidence that physical activity may reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back, but we don’t know for sure yet whether this is the case.

Keeping active may also help you to cope with cancer treatment and improve your quality of life, general health and mental wellbeing, both during and after treatment.

There is not enough evidence from studies to tell us precisely how much physical activity is needed, so we suggest that you aim for 3.5 hours of physical activity a week, checking first with your treatment team what is appropriate for you.

What else can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the amount of alcohol you regularly drink can also help. There’s expert information on our website to help you decide what lifestyle changes you might like to make to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.


About the author


Eluned Hughes is Head of the Public Health and Information team at Breast Cancer Now.

She has a Masters in Biochemistry and in Science Communication, and has dedicated her career to creating innovative and evidence-based health information and public health campaigns.