Our body requires a number of hormones (chemical messengers) for maintenance of good health. In the case of women, two hormones called estrogen and progesterone (also referred to as sex hormones), have a very vital role in the normal functioning of different organs and tissues. Any alterations in the levels of these hormones are known to have adverse effects on one’s health and body functions. Conditions such as water retention, weight gain, depression and decreased sexual desire have been attributed to the alterations in the sex hormone levels. Regular physical exercises might help women in preventing these conditions.
It has been established that regular physical exercise strongly prevents cancer with the potential to reduce incidence by 40% and to improve survival by 50–60% after diagnosis of cancer.1 This effect is particularly significant for breast and colon cancer. Current research supports the beneficial role of exercise in reducing the risk for developing breast cancer and preventing treatment-related impairments.2
Researchers from Harvard Medical School have shown in their study that physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis may reduce the risk of death from this condition. The greatest benefit was seen in women who walked 3–5 hours per week at an average pace.3 Subsequent to cancer diagnosis, exercise is seen to have positive benefits in reducing symptoms, improving psychological health, managing side effects of radio- and chemotherapy, improving surgical outcomes and in maintaining physical function.1
It is probable that exercise will reduce the risk of breast cancer through reduction in the levels of female hormones. Exercise may lower levels of estrogen and progesterone and lengthen menstrual cycles or result in menstrual cycles in which no egg (ovum) is released. It might also help postmenopausal women maintain a lower weight, which can lower estrogen levels.
Exercise is an effective intervention to improve fatigue, cardiorespiratory fitness and physical functioning in breast cancer patients and survivors. Therefore, exercise may prove to be a valuable intervention to improve not only the quality of life but also overall survival in such patients.4
- Newton RU, Galvão DA. Exercise in Prevention and Management of Cancer. Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2008; 9(2–3): 135–146.
- Reigle BS, Wonders K. Breast Cancer and the Role of Exercise in Women. Methods Mol Biol. 2009; 472: 169–189.
- Holmes MD, Chen WY, Feskanich D, Kroenke CH, Colditz GA. Physical Activity and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. JAMA. 2005; 293(20): 2479–2486.
- McNeely ML, Campbell KL, Rowe BH, Klassen TP, Mackey JR, et al. Effects of Exercise on Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2006; 175(1): 34–41.