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Physical Activity Improves Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Do you have a client who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer? There is evidence that continuing an exercise program may improve her chances of survival. A study published in the May 25 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (2005; 293 [20], 2479–86) found that women with breast cancer who participated in physical activity equal to walking 1 or more hours per week had better survival odds than those who exercised less than that or not at all.

Researchers studied responses from 2,987 female registered nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1984 and 1998 and who followed up with researchers until death or June 2002, whichever came first. They measured physical activity as metabolic equivalent task (MET) hours. A total of 3 MET-hours is equivalent to walking for 1 hour at an average pace of 2–2.9 miles per hour.

Compared to the risk of death from breast cancer for women who engaged in under 3 MET-hours of exercise per week, the adjusted relative risk was 20% lower with 3–8.9 MET-hours per week; 50% lower with 9–14.9 MET-hours per week; 44% lower with 15–23.9 MET-hours per week; and 40% lower with 24 or more MET-hours per week. The benefits were particularly apparent among women with hormone-responsive tumors.

“It has been estimated that women decrease their levels of physical activity by 2 hours per week after a breast cancer diagnosis, with greater decreases among obese women, and that less than one-third of breast cancer survivors participate in levels of activity recommended by government agencies,” the study authors said. “Women with breast cancer who follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for all individuals in the United States to exercise at moderate intensity for 30 or more minutes per day for 5 or more days per week may survive longer.”


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