Breast Cancer Survival and Exercise – To Walk or To Run?

Woman  joggingMany studies have evaluated the effects of exercise on the mortality risk of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Research has shown that women who participate in either a mile of brisk walking or running about two-thirds of a mile per day have a decreased mortality risk of 25 percent. This same risk reduction occurs when following the current American Heart Association recommendations that all adults engage in moderate intensity, aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise for 20 minutes, three days a week. But what happens to risk reduction when comparing walking to running?

When comparing risk reduction between walking and running, researchers found a significantly higher risk reduction, 40 percent, in the running group compared to the walking group. This was based on running only two-thirds of a mile per day!  Runners who averaged more than 2.25 miles per day were at a 95 percent risk reduction compared to those who did not meet the current exercise recommendations. Based on this current research it seems that more vigorous exercise should be encouraged for breast cancer survivors.

So what do we know when it comes to exercise and increasing the chances for long-term survival?

Participating in 2.5 hours of moderately intense exercise per week will increase survival rate by 25 percent. This includes brisk walking or other activities.

The more intense the workout, the better the survival rate seems to get. Running an average of 2.25 miles a day will increase survival rate by 95 percent compared to those who don’t exercise at all.

If you’re not much of a runner, or your knees won’t let you, high intensity interval training may be another option that can take the place of running.

Here are some tools to get started:

Map My Run –

My Fitness Pal –

Fitbit –

As always, it is important to listen to your body.  If your body will not allow you to exercise because of exhaustion or pain, then honor your body’s signals. More harm than good may result if care is not taken when implementing an exercise plan. Start slow and work up as your tolerance improves. Who knows, maybe a marathon is in the near future for you!

By Haylee Nye, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program. Edited by Dr. Elise Schroeder