Regular housework cuts breast cancer risk

Kimberly Gillan
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Doing housework, brisk walking and gardening each day reduces women's risk of developing breast cancer, according to UK research.

Active women who do lots of incidental exercise are 13 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who are sedentary. While women with moderately active lives have an eight percent reduced risk.

Scientists from Cancer Research UK looked at the activity levels and diet of more than 8000 people with breast cancer.

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"This large study further highlights the benefits of being active –– even moderate amounts," said Professor Tim Key, an epidemiologist from Cancer Research UK.

"There is also a lot of evidence that exercise reduces the risk of bowel cancer. More research is needed on other types of cancer, and to investigate the mechanisms which could explain the links."

Make it a habit

The Australian government recommends we do at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Fifteen percent of Australians live sedentary lifestyles.

Previous research found three percent of breast cancers, five percent of colon cancers and four percent of womb cancers were linked with people doing less than 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

Dr Alison Butt, director of research investment at the Breast Cancer Foundation, told ninemsn the study adds to evidence that exercise is important for reducing our chances of breast cancer.

"It's something we have known for a while and it's good to have figures and statistics that confirm that moderate exercise is important in reducing cancer risk — breast cancer in particular," she said.

"We've known that maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy diet and reducing the intake of alcohol are all really important things anyone can do."

Experts are still unsure of exactly how exercise and maintaining weight reduces breast cancer risk.

"We do know that obesity and being overweight can increase your risk of breast cancer," Dr Butt said.

"It's not very clear what the mechanisms are but breast cancer is a hormonally driven disease. Oestrogen and other female hormones can really drive and exacerbate the disease. There is some thought that being overweight and not having a healthy diet can somehow interfere with the normal processes by which oestrogen is regulated in the body."

Any movement is good movement

Dr Butt pointed out that we don't need to slave at the gym to reduce our breast cancer risk.

"In the past that message has been obscured and people think they need to go the gym every morning or go for marathon runs," she said.

"It's looking at your lifestyle and making small adjustments to increase your daily rounds of exercise. Park a little bit further away from the shops than you would normally or walk around the block in your lunchbreak."

Professor Ian Olver, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, said we're best to lock in healthy habits from a young age.

"The mechanisms aren't entirely worked out — it may be that early on you need to exercise to establish the pattern of things, rather than doing it when you are post-menopausal," he said.

Professor Olver said office workers need to be particularly conscious of moving regularly.

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"There seems to be a greater chance of getting some cancers if you have long periods of sitting," he said.

"The big challenge is for people in offices who sit at their computers all day. We've got to engineer into people's lifestyles that if you're able to walk to work or get off a bus stop earlier and walk the rest of the way, that could help. If you have got something you can do routinely, that would be ideal."

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