We are all aware of the fact that exercise is good for health. And middle-aged women have long been advised to get active to lower their risk of breast cancer after menopause. But, starting young, pays off, too. A new research shows, exercise during the teen years — starting as young as age 12 — can help protect girls from breast cancer when they're grown.
Researchers tracked nearly 65,000 nurses, ages ranging from 24 to 42 who enrolled in a major health study. They answered detailed questionnaires about their physical activity dating back to age 12. Within six years of enrolling, 550 were diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. A quarter of all breast cancer is diagnosed at these younger ages, when it's typically more aggressive.
Women who were physically active as teens and young adults were 23 percent less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women who grew up sedentary, researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The biggest impact was regular exercise from ages 12 to 22.
The women at lowest risk of breast cancer, reported doing 3 hours and 15 minutes of running or other vigorous activity a week — or, for the less athletic, 13 hours a week of walking. Typically, the teens reported more strenuous exercise while during adulthood, walking was most common.
But, why exercise may protect girls from future breast cancer? How exactly, would it help? A big point of exercise in middle age and beyond is to keep off the pounds. After menopause, fat tissue is a chief source of estrogen.
In youth, however, the theory is that physical activity itself lowers estrogen levels. Studies of teen athletes show that very intense exercise can delay onset of menstrual cycles and cause irregular periods.
While the study examined only premenopausal breast cancer, "it's certainly likely and possible" that the protection from youthful exercise will last long enough to affect more common postmenopausal breast cancer, too, Colditz added.
There are quite a few breast cancer risks that a woman can't change, like:
- How early she starts menstruating
- How late menopause hits
- Family history of the disease
But, physical activity and body weight are such factors that women can control. Women who engage in physical activity not only during adolescence but also during adulthood, lower their risks of breast cancer, said
So, what are you still waiting for? If your young daughter is a bookworm or simply a TV buff, just simply get her off the couch.
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