Doing just half an hour of exercise every day can massively reduce the risk of developing the disease, says James Jopling
NEW Year is the traditional time to shed bad habits, kick-start that healthy eating plan and generally resolve to be a better person, inside and out. At this time of year our inboxes are flooded with health and fitness messages from corporate and consumer brands, and we at Breakthrough Breast Cancer are keen to make the most of this huge focus on health.
We know that being physically active can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Yet a survey we conducted last year revealed that an alarming 27 per cent of Scottish women believe there is nothing they can do to reduce that risk. Many women have a fatalistic view of breast cancer. They believe that developing the disease is just bad luck, the odds aren’t in their favour and there is nothing they can do about it.
That’s not the case, and that’s where being fit and healthy can play an important role. The same survey also told us that a significant number of women in Scotland do not know about the lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk of breast cancer. This January, and indeed all year round, we encourage women to focus on the link between a healthy lifestyle and breast cancer risk. You can stack the odds in your favour.
It is currently not possible to predict who will get breast cancer, and for women who have been diagnosed with the disease, it is not often possible to say what caused their breast cancer. This is because there is no single cause of breast cancer – it results from a combination of our genes, the way we live our lives, as well as our surrounding environment. But while you can’t control all your risk factors, such as age or height, there are some you can choose to reduce.
We know that reducing the amount of alcohol you regularly drink, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Working with experts across the world, Breakthrough estimates that by carrying out at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, or a total of at least 3.5 hours a week, women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by at least 20 per cent. That may sound a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t need to be.
People mistakenly think you have to go to a gym or play team sports. You don’t. A number of research studies show that it doesn’t matter what sort of moderate activity you do, it is the total amount that makes a difference. The important thing is that the activity gets you warmer, breathing harder, and your heart beating faster. You should still be able to carry on a conversation. Of course, regular physical activity is good for your health in many other ways too. It reduces the risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis, as well as other cancers such as bowel cancer.
On top of the benefits, this is Scotland’s big sporting year. Riding on the success of the London Olympics, 2014 will be full of opportunities to take an interest in sport. Between the Ryder Cup coming to Gleneagles, and Glasgow playing host to the Commonwealth Games, what better time to get involved and experience some of the thrills of top athletes on your own terms?
As a charity that in Scotland relies totally on voluntary income, one of the most common ways to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer is through taking part in an active event. In 2013 we saw a team of five brave swimmers from West Lothian conquer the English Channel in just over 12 hours.
Of course, not everyone needs to be quite as adventurous. Many of our supporters chose events such as the Edinburgh Marathon, Pedal for Scotland, the Bupa Great Women’s 10K and the Moonwalk Scotland – all of which are open for entry right now.
If this doesn’t encourage you to think about your breast cancer risk, hopefully the statistics will. Whilst fewer women are dying from breast cancer, the incidence continues to rise, with more than 4,500 women being diagnosed in Scotland each year. We understand that making lifestyles changes is not easy and to sustain those changes is even more challenging, but why not start this year knowing the odds can be stacked in your favour?
• James Jopling is director for Scotland at Breakthrough Breast Cancer www.breakthrough.org.uk