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How a healthy lifestyle may lower your risk of breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a great time for you or someone you love to get screened for breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women ages 40 and older get a screening mammogram every two years. Blue Cross of Idaho offers members annual screening mammograms covered at little or no cost when they go to an in-network provider or facility.

women with yoga matsPreventive breast cancer screenings are the best way to help detect breast cancer early, but there are some lifestyle changes that you can make to help lower your risk. Healthy habits, like regular exercise and eating balanced meals, may also help lower your risk.

Exercise often

Exercise helps decrease the chance of cancer in a few ways. It helps maintain weight, lower blood estrogen levels and boost the immune system. According to the Susan G. Komen® Foundation, women who exercise or are physically active have a 10-20% lower risk of breast cancer. Getting between two to five hours of moderate activity each week can help lower your risk.

Some examples of moderate activity include:

  • Walking
  • Light jogging
  • Resistance training
  • Swimming

Even just walking at a quick pace for 30 minutes a day can help lower your risk.

Nutrition and breast cancer

Eating a well-balanced diet may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, some studies have shown that eating lots of fruits and vegetables may lower your risk. A balanced diet can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can also help lower your risk of breast cancer. More studies are being done to explore how nutrition impacts the risk of cancer.

The following foods are part of a healthy diet, and eating them regularly may help improve your risk.

Fruits and vegetables

Everyone should eat at least 2-1/2 to 3 cups of veggies and 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit every day. Make sure you eat a variety of fruits and veggies. One serving of fruit could be 1 cup of 100% fruit juice, 1/2 cup of dried fruit or one small apple. One serving of vegetables could be 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, 1/2 cup vegetable juice or 1 cup raw leafy greens.

Protein-rich foods

Eat lean proteins like chicken, fish, lentils and beans more often than red or processed meats. These foods have good-quality protein with added benefits. For example, plant protein includes fiber, and fish adds healthy fats like omega-3s to our diet.

Whole-grain foods

Lastly, add whole grains to your diet. Whole grains include important nutrients like dietary fiber, B vitamins and other minerals. Whole grains can be found in foods like 100% whole-grain bread, wild rice, brown rice, popcorn, oatmeal and barley. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends getting at least half of your grains from whole grains. If you do eat refined grains, make sure that they are enriched, which means some vitamins and minerals have been added back in after processing.

Other ways to lower your risk of breast cancer

In addition to eating healthy and exercising regularly, quitting smoking can help lower your risk. The Susan G. Komen Foundation states that current smokers have a 10% higher risk of getting breast cancer. You should also limit the amount of alcohol you consume or avoid drinking. Women who drink two to three drinks each day have a 20% higher risk of breast cancer than women who don’t drink.

Schedule your screening mammogram

If you haven’t already had your screening mammogram, call your doctor today to schedule an appointment. Encourage your loved ones who may be due for a mammogram to schedule theirs, too. Early detection can help save lives.

Written by: Melissa Carpenter, wellbeing coach at Blue Cross of Idaho. Melissa has a degree in exercise science and is nationally certified in both personal training (NSCA-CPT) and wellness coaching (ACE). She has nearly 20 years of experience in the health promotion industry, focusing on wellbeing coaching.

Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2023