Exercise could be a life-saver for breast cancer survivors—literally.
A new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology says that regular exercise could extend the life expectance of breast cancer survivors because it reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer recurrence.
“Many people don’t know the No. 1 cause of death for breast cancer survivors is heart disease, not cancer,” said Christina Dieli-Conwright, an assistant professor at USC and lead author of a study.
About nine out of 10 breast cancer survivors are still alive five years after their initial diagnosis, the American Cancer Society reports. The weight that women tend to gain during breast cancer treatment, however, often impairs their health.
In fact, women with metabolic syndrome are 17 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, three times more likely to experience a recurrence and two times more likely to die from breast cancer, the authors say.
That’s why they set out to see if working out could really improve their chances at survival—again.
Working It Out
As part of the trial, researchers looked at 100 breast cancer survivors who were treated within six months of the study. One group participated in three exercise sessions per week—with weights and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio—over the course of four months. A control group did not participate.
The women in the exercise group lost fat and boosted muscle. At the start of the study, about 46 percent of them were obese, and 77 percent had metabolic syndrome. After working out for four months, 15 percent of those in the exercise group had metabolic syndrome (compared to 80 percent in the control group). Their blood pressure went down 10 percent and their good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) went up by 50 percent.
“In breast cancer patients, metabolic syndrome is exacerbated by obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and receipt of chemotherapy,” said Dieli-Conwright,
“Exercise is a form of medicine,” Dieli-Conwright said. “Both of these studies support that idea, and we will continue to conduct studies to supplement traditional cancer therapies.”
To lower their risk for metabolic syndrome, which includes excess body fats, high triglycerides and high blood pressure, breast cancer survivors should do aerobics and resistance exercises, researchers say.
The takeaway: Don’t skip exercise, especially if you are a survivor. It could mean that you get to survive again.