Cardiovascular Fitness and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer afflicting women worldwide. It is also the second highest cause of cancer related death in the United States. Such high prevalence warrants a close look at actions to sway the odds.

Focus on what you can change

Like so many diseases, there are many variables that contribute to breast cancer risk. Some are beyond control, like family history, age, and genetics, but a consistent exercise habit is not. Along with behaviors like not smoking and maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise improves the chances of avoiding breast cancer. For patients and survivors, exercise improves function and quality of life.

The important questions are, how much and what type of exercise? A good goal is to meet the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Exercising longer and / or at higher intensity seems to yield better results.


Light, moderate and vigorous are terms that can mean very different things for different people. A good way to self-measure your effort is with the rate of perceived exertion scale.

An activity that feels like a 4 to one person may feel like a 2 or a 6 to others. Judge for yourself and keep in mind that your perception of effort will change as your fitness improves over time.

Meeting the minimum of 150 minutes of exercise each week can be achieved in different ways. The most common idea is to get 30 minutes of exercise on each of five days per week. But, the time can also be effectively accumulated in 10 minute blocks, if that works better in terms of time and energy level.

Another way to reach a weekly threshold is to do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Again, use the rate of perceived exertion scale to adjust your effort to the appropriate level.

Activities That Work for You

What you choose to do for exercise is completely up to you. Just about any sustained activity will work. Walking, hiking, running, biking, rowing and stair climbing are all viable choices. Finding a likable activity is important to making it sustainable.

Exercise offers myriad benefits to overall health but contributes to lowering the risk of breast cancer. Before you start an exercise program consult with your physician to ensure it’s safe for you to do.

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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