October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s important to understand the risks associated with the disease and what can be done to reduce them.
According to breastcancer.org, approximately 12 percent of women – that’s one in eight – in the U.S. will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, and 250,000 women are expected to be diagnosed in 2017 alone. While these statistics are concerning, my goal as a yoga and wellness instructor is to educate, motivate and develop a sense of empowerment to create or maintain the lifestyle needed for risk reduction and prevention purposes. Exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits could prevent 25-30 percent of cases of breast cancer, according to many studies.
Let’s start with exercise. The National Cancer Institute states that physically active women are at a lower risk for breast cancer than physically inactive women. What’s the correlation? According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, exercise may help reduce the number of fat cells responsible for producing estrogen, which is important, because an excess of estrogen in the body could lead to breast cancer.
The best ways to stay active and reduce fat include incorporating both cardiovascular activity and strength training in your exercise regimen. The frequency of exercise is also important, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
Nutrition is another important factor to consider when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer. Consuming plant-based foods containing antioxidants and carotenoids found in many fruits and vegetables can help. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are all high in antioxidants, and carrots, tomatoes, kale and spinach are high in carotenoids. Foods high in fiber, such as quinoa, brown rice and oatmeal, can help as well.
The Mayo Clinic suggests following a Mediterranean diet, which is high in healthful fats such as olive oil, nuts and fish. In general, try to eat clean, whole and natural foods rather than processed foods, which are high in sugar, refined grains, saturated fats and sodium.
Lifestyle plays an important role in reducing the risk of breast cancer. The Mayo Clinic reports that smoking and heavy alcohol consumption have been linked to higher risks of breast cancer in women. Therefore, it’s important for women to limit their alcohol intake to less than one drink per day and refrain from smoking altogether. In addition, women over 40 should discuss with their doctors how to properly perform self-exams, when to start getting mammograms and how frequently to get them done, as there are differing guidelines out there from various organizations.
It’s important to be proactive and maintain an open and ongoing dialogue during health screenings and checkups. Knowledge is power, and knowing the risks as well as what can be done for preventive purposes can help so many women when it comes to breast cancer prevention.
Reena Vokoun is owner of the Los Altos-based Passion Fit. The fitness company is scheduled to partner with Athleta for a Breast Cancer Awareness Month event, including a dance class taught by Vokoun, 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at Athleta, at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto. All proceeds will support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For more information, visit passionfit.com.