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Brisk daily walk or cycle ride boosts chances of surviving breast cancer by 60%

Even regular moderate physical activity more than halves their risk of dying from the disease, scientists say.

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Close up of feet of a runner running in autumn leaves training exercise
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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

A brisk daily walk or cycle ride boosts women's chances of surviving breast cancer by 60 percent, according to new research.

Even regular moderate physical activity more than halves their risk of dying from the disease, scientists say.

It adds to the evidence exercise should be prescribed to patients after surgery or chemotherapy.

Corresponding author Dr. Reina Haque said: "Our findings have implications for patient counseling on the benefits of exercise with regard to cancer outcomes."

They are based on 315 older women in the US who were followed for up to nearly nine years.

Participants filled in two questionnaires about their exercise habits as well as other routines prior to their initial diagnosis at least two years previously.

The study in JAMA Network Open found those who worked out were more likely to remain cancer-free after treatment.

Research has long shown a positive link between exercise and cancer survival. People who exercise more - before or after treatment - appear to live longer.

Dr. Haque, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said: "The protective effect of physical activity on risk of developing breast cancer is known.

"However, its effect after breast cancer diagnosis remains controversial. It has been suggested both moderate and strenuous exercise have comparable benefits.

"But survival outcomes have been studied rarely among patients with cancer.

"The aim of this study was to evaluate the association of physical activity beyond essential daily functioning with risk of all-cause mortality among breast cancer survivors."

More than 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Britain. It claims around 11,400 lives annually.

Dr. Haque said: "The findings of this cohort study suggest even moderate physical activity was associated with a 60% lower risk of death among breast cancer survivors, similar to a previous cohort.

"The mortality risk was similar among participants who were active and those with moderate physical activity levels."

She added: "Our findings further suggest survivorship care plans should consider incorporating physical activity because even moderate activity may be vital for extending survival as well as health-related quality of life."

Sandra Greene, 54, found that exercising saved her through her breast cancer battle.

In May 2021, she found a lump in her breast whilst out on a run. Her sports bra was unusually uncomfortable and was chafing on her chest.

When she checked at home she found a bumpy vein on her left breast – which was later confirmed to be breast cancer.

Sandra went through around 18 months of treatment. To find cancer she had a mammogram, an ultrasound, a needle biopsy and an MRI.

The MRI scan revealed she had two tumors in her breast and she was diagnosed with multifocal lobular breast cancer.

The mum underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction in October 2021 and was placed on a seven-year course of hormone therapy.

Despite a grueling journey, exercise acted as a haven and helped her get back to normality as quickly as possible.

She said: “I am a big advocate in believing that if you are keeping yourself fit and healthy, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about cancer or any other illness, it helps you deal with that scenario and recovery afterwards.

“I‘ve read lots of stories about people who have had cancer who have taken a long time to recover after their treatment.

"But because I was fit and healthy and exercised regularly I was back on my feet so much quicker, back to work so much quicker, back onto my normal life so much quicker.

“I had my operation in mid-October and within three weeks I was walking three to four miles a day, and by January I was running 5k again.

traffic, city transport and people concept - woman cycling along red bike lane with signs of bicycles on street
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Sandra is a financial ombudsman from Grays, Essex. She lives with her husband Neil and youngest son Callum.

She said: “When I found out I had cancer there was that temptation to think life must stop while I deal with it but I decided to take a very different view.

“I thought I am going to carry on doing everything I normally do and I am just going to fit in all these hospital appointments around that.

“I remember my operation was on a Saturday during Covid, so I had to have a Covid test on the Tuesday, but the night before the test I was still out running.

“I also had to have a minor operation to have a lymph node biopsy and two weeks later I ran the Cancer Research summer run.”

She added: “I understand that everybody deals with it in their own way but that’s the way I dealt with it.

“I think that the exercise I was doing beforehand helped me cope with the diagnosis physically as well as mentally.

“It helped me with getting on with my life when I was living with cancer and it helped me get back on track much quicker with my life after my treatment."

Sandra Greene with her sports bra. (Cancer Research UK via SWNS)”

She is currently on a seven-year hormone treatment which can come with side effects. It can cause bones to become brittle over time and can leave people feeling achy.

She said: “The worst thing for me is that it can make your bones brittle, it can make you very achy, so when I get up first thing in the morning it does take a little bit of work to get myself going.

"Sometimes I feel like a little old lady, but I try not let that stop me from doing all the things I want to do.

“I think if I wasn’t running and also doing yoga, I think those side effects would be even worse. Keeping up the exercise limits the impact the side effects have on me.”

Ms Greene runs three times a week and does yoga once a week.

She has a long history of cancer in her family. Both her sisters have had breast cancer, her mother-in-law died of lung cancer and her dad currently is suffering from prostate cancer.

As a result, Ms Greene has always got involved with fundraising events way before she received her own diagnosis.

She recently took part in a half marathon walk for Helen Rollason Cancer Charity and she is planning to do Cancer Research’s Winter 10k this coming February.

She added: “If you didn’t exercise at all before, now would be a good time to start, even if it is just light walking, because with cancer it can really help you get through the journey physically.

“It also hugely helps with mental wellbeing. If I didn’t exercise I would have really struggled and it would have been easy to fall into a little bit of depression.

“Exercise helps to keep a positive mind and helps deal with whatever you’re facing.”

Reacting to the new study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, Patricia Bischof, the Scientific Research Officer at Breast Cancer UK said: “This new study found that even moderate physical activity was associated with a 60% lower risk of death among breast cancer survivors, compared to those who were insufficiently active.

"These results support what many other studies and meta-studies have also shown: physical activity is associated with a reduced all-cause mortality as well as reduced breast cancer mortality.

"There are several possible mechanisms that could explain this.

"Physical activity helps lower the levels of certain circulating hormones and reduces inflammation, which can help lower the likelihood of cancer developing and progressing.

"Being active also keeps body weight under control, which plays a significant role in breast cancer survival.

“It is a very positive and encouraging study because it demonstrates how lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on survival following a breast cancer diagnosis.”

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