A fitness expert says exercise can help you lower your risk of breast cancer and provides guidelines for measuring your effort.

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

Guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week for general health.

Like so many diseases, there are many variables that contribute to breast cancer risk. Some are beyond your control, like family history, age and genetics. But a consistent exercise habit is not.

Focus on what you can change. 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 for general health. Exercising longer and/or at higher intensity seems to yield better results.

Exercise Intensity

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.

This rating scale can help gauge your exercise exertion.
This rating scale can help gauge your exercise exertion.

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 plan is to get 30 minutes of exercise on five days a 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 the 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.

Choose the Right Exercise

What you choose to do for exercise is up to you. Just about any sustained activity will work.

Walking, hiking, running, biking, rowing and climbing stairs are all viable choices. Find an activity that you enjoy, so you look forward to and enjoy exercising and you will be more consistent with your routine.

Exercise offers myriad benefits to overall health and also contributes to lowering the risk of breast cancer. But before you start an exercise program, consult with your physician to ensure the activities you are planning to do are safe for you.

Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.