Exercising vigorously could help to reduce the chances of women who have been through the menopause developing breast cancer, new findings suggest.
The study links higher levels of physical activity among post-menopausal women with a reduced chance of developing the disease.
Lower levels of body fat are also linked to greater resistance to breast cancer. However, being physically active appears to reduce the chances of developing the condition irrespective of body fat, according to the study presented today at the National Cancer Research Institute’s conference in Liverpool.
Data from almost 126,000 women who had been through the menopause was used for the research. The women recorded various lifestyle factors, including their physical activity levels.
The data was compiled by UK Biobank, which collects medical information and research samples with the aim of finding out more about how disease spreads.
Of the nearly 126,000 women who were included in the study, about 1,000 of them went on to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next three years. This enabled scientists to assess the effects of lifestyle factors in relation to developing the disease within a relatively short space of time.
Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Tim Key collaborated with PhD student Wenji Guo on the study.
The Oxford University professor, who led the study, said the findings are interesting because they appear to show that reduced breast cancer risk among those who exercise regularly is not just because their exertions have helped them to lose weight.
Instead, he said, there may be a more direct link between vigorous exercise and reduced chances of developing breast cancer.
While he accepts it is purely speculation at this stage, he suggested hormone levels in the body affected by exercise could be at play.
Director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, Alison Cox, welcomed the work of UK Biobank, adding that this latest study reinforced the importance of keeping active, showing that there are more advantages than just burning calories.