Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’re used to hearing about walks – 5K, 10K, or longer – in support of breast cancer research and screening. But this year we’re turning the tables on those reasons and hearing about new data indicating that walking itself can be part of a breast cancer prevention routine for postmenopausal women. Researchers looking at epidemiologic evidence found that women who walked at least 7 hours a week had a significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who were not as physically active.
The study, supported by the American Cancer Society, followed more than 73,000 postmenopausal women for over 15 years, monitoring their risk of developing breast cancer. They found that those who exercised for an average of an hour a day – most often by walking at a moderate rate – lowered their risk by 14%. For women who exercised more strenuously for the same amount of time, their risk reduction was even greater, at 25%. These are dramatic figures – enough to get many of us into our walking shoes daily.
What does this mean to you? In addition to wearing a pink ribbon in October, you may decide to get a little pink in the face as you begin or ratchet up an exercise program. We’ve known for quite a while that lifestyle choices can have a beneficial effect on health but how do we best motivate ourselves to make lasting changes that develop an effective program of self-care? Here are some tips to put into play:
Find an activity that you enjoy doing – not one that you think you should be doing. You are much more likely to continue when you get immediate positive reinforcement. Just because your best friend loves Yoga – or swimming or jogging or spinning – doesn’t mean that you will. Try out several types of exercise until you find one that becomes a pleasure not a chore.
Start small. Just as with any goal, when you set expectations unrealistically high, you run the risk of overwhelming yourself and stopping before you’ve achieved your objective. Particularly with exercise, you can hurt yourself if you begin too strenuously. You know your body – design a program that starts where you are now. Then continue to build on your increasing strength and flexibility. If you need help from a personal trainer, treat yourself to a few sessions.
Look for supportive allies. You may decide to get together with a group of old friends to exercise or find new colleagues, as you get more involved in your latest chosen physical activity. In either case, having others there to motivate you can sometimes make the difference between staying on track and giving in to the very real challenges of continuing.
Formalize your commitment. For some this might mean publically stating your goals to family and friends, for others making a written, concrete pledge to yourself. You can wear a monitoring device that tracks your steps each day and reports them back to you and your computer. All of these encourage you to carry on even when you feel like stopping.
Once you’re comfortable with your new training routine, you may choose to participate in one of the walks for breast cancer awareness yourself. All the ones I’ve completed over the past years have been a positive experience, healing the emotional aftermath of breast cancer. Here’s a video highlighting three of the benefits of joining one of these walks. Do any of these resonate for you?