Reducing Breast Cancer by Exercise and Diet

Author: Abigail Buie


            Given the impact that the diagnosis and treatment of cancer has on women, there has been a lot of research out there on what causes it and how to prevent it. Exercise is a huge topic in prevention and living a healthy life style. Diet is also another important factor that can help prevent breast cancer, although there is not as much research out there as there is for exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. For post- menopausal women, it is just as important to stay active and to maintain a healthy weight as it is for pre-menopausal women. Weight gain and being obese have been shown to be  risk factors in developing some forms of post-menopausal breast cancer (Harvie 2015).  Exercise and a healthy diet post-menopause are important factors in the prevention of breast cancer.


Regular physical activity in women who do not have a cancerous tumor in their breast has shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer (Pritchard, 2004). On average, about 2 hours of cardiorespiratory exercise a week can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, along with the mortality of breast cancer, and leads to a healthier way of living (Pritchard, 2004). Low to no physical activity may result in women being overweight. In women who develop breast cancer, but for whom breast cancer does not run in the family, tend to not be at a healthy weight nor exercising on a regular basis. Consequently this association seems to lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. There was shown to be a 14% decreased risk of breast cancer for women that had been involved in regular physical activity compared to women that had been not active on a regular basis (Pritchard, 2004). Those women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer are not limited to the type of strenuous activity they choose to participate in, although the women that have been diagnosed or are recovering from breast cancer may be limited to low intensity exercises because moderate to high intensity exercises can potentially increase the cancerous tumor cells, and may therefore increasing the severity of the disease (Harvie 2015).


            Diet plays a big role in breast cancer prevention because it closely is related to your health and obesity. Exercise can only help you stay fit and healthy if your diet complements it and is also consistent. There have been many studies about what types of food help prevent cancer as well as what types increase your risk of developing breast cancer. A recent review suggests that for every 10 g of fiber in the diet, there is a 5% reduction in breast cancer risk (Dieli-Cornwright, 2016). According to this study,  “[f]iber may reduce risk by reducing the reabsorption of estrogen and androgens in the bowel and hence their circulating levels. Soluble fiber appears to be the most protective, possibly through its beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity” (Harvie 2015). Although some say a vegetarian or vegan diet may help reduce the risk, this review suggests that this diet has little effect on breast cancer risk (Dieli-Cornwright, 2016). There is some evidence that the intake of meat and processed meat slightly increase the risk by 3% but it is not clear as to why this is (Dieli-Cornwright, 2016). Lastly dairy is another type of food that also has shown a slight increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.


            If breast cancer doesn’t run the family or even if it does, maintaining a healthy weight and diet seem to play a role in reducing the chances of developing the cancerous tumors. Obesity in combination with not exercising post-menopausal is a drastic way to increase the risk of the disease. Eating a well-balanced diet constantly and exercising on average of 150 minutes a week is proven to be the best choice in living a healthy life as well as majorly reducing the risk of developing breast cancer.


  1. Dieli-Conwright, C. M., Lee, K., & Kiwata, J. L. (2016). Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence: an Evaluation of the Effects and Mechanisms of Diet and Exercise. Current breast cancer reports, 8(3), 139-150.
  2. Pritchard, Kathleen I. (2004). Is exercise effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women?. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal  170(5), 787.
  3. Harvie, Michelle., Howell, Anthony., & Evans, D. Gareth. (2015). Diet and Life Style Prevent Breast Cancer. Cancer Prevention, Hereditary Genetics, and Epidemiology. 10.14694/EdBook_AM.2015.35.e66.