Exercise and Breast Cancer

images-11You probably know that exercising and staying active are important, but do you know how important they are when it comes to reducing your risk for breast cancer? Take this quick quiz to test your knowledge, and then read the answers below. You may be surprised at what you learn.

1.  True or False: An exercise program is only good for building muscles and strengthening the cardiovascular system.

2.  Research shows exercise can:

a)  reduce fatigue
b)  reduce the side effects of cancer treatment
c)   lower breast cancer patients’ risk of recurrence
d)  all of the above

3.  True or False: Breast cancer survivors should exercise as much as (or more if necessary) than they did before being treated.

4.  How much exercise makes a difference in your breast cancer risk?

a)  3+ hours per week
b)  5 to 10 hours per week
c)  10 to 20 hours per week

5.  What are the best types of exercise for women who want to improve their quality of life and reduce their risk of breast cancer?

a)  Cardiovascular exercise like walking
b)  Strength training workouts like lifting weights
c)  Flexibility exercises like yoga
d)  All of the above with physician approval


1. False.

While it’s true that exercise is good for the muscles and the cardiovascular system, it plays a number of roles in improving health. In addition to helping to control weight, strengthen bones and joints, and promote psychological well being, research shows regular physical activity also reduces one’s risk for some types of cancer, including breast cancer.

2. d) All of the above.

The benefits of exercise related to breast cancer are numerous. Regular activity can reduce depression, lessen fatigue and improve quality of life during treatment. Physical activity reduces side effects associated with treatment including nausea during chemotherapy, constipation, and fatigue caused by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Exercise also helps you sleep better, which allows the body to heal while it rests.

Several studies show that post-menopausal women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer when they are physically active on a regular basis. While a lifetime of ongoing physical activity is thought to have the greatest benefit, women who increase their physical activity after menopause may also reduce their risk of breast cancer.

3. True.

Chemotherapy can be harsh on the body, causing women to become weaker and heavier at a rate equivalent to 10 years of aging. Studies show that staying active can reduce your risk for cancer recurrence. And the longer cancer survivors live, the higher their risk for heart disease, which exercise also fights.

4.  a) 3+ hours per week.

The more you exercise, the lower your risk for breast cancer. Yet, a minimum of three hours per week has been shown to have protective effects too. The more intense the exercise, the lower your risk will be. However, even activities like gardening, playing with your kids and doing household chores can make a difference.

5. d) all of the above with physician approval.

Choosing the right exercise program for you depends on where you are from a fitness perspective. If you’ve never exercised before, discuss your options with your doctor. The most important thing to do is to start moving.

Flexibility exercises like yoga are important to maintain mobility, aerobic exercise like brisk walking, jogging and swimming burn calories, help you lose weight and build cardiovascular fitness, and resistance or strength training workouts with weights build muscle which is often lost during cancer treatments. Ideally, an exercise professional can help you tailor a regular program that is right for you.

This content has been medically reviewed by Lee Jones, PhD, associate professor and scientific director of the Duke Center for Cancer Survivorship.