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4 habits for healthy breasts

Healthy habits like regular exercise and quitting tobacco can protect your breasts.

Updated on April 1, 2024

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Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Making a few lifestyle changes can help keep your breasts healthy and lower your risk of breast cancer. 

a glass of wine and a glass of beer
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If you drink alcohol, do so moderately

Sipping even a few drinks per week is linked with a greater chance of developing breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Alcohol can not only damage DNA, the genetic material in cells, and increase your cancer risk, but regularly drinking too much alcohol increases your odds of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer.

“If you drink alcohol, it is recommended that you consume less than one drink per day,” says Sean Edmunds, MD, an OBGYN at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Instead of a second glass of wine, reach for soda water with lime. Remember, one drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

middle-aged woman strength training
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Aim for a 30-minute workout

People who are overweight or obese—indicated by a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater—have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause (not having a menstrual cycle for 12 months in a row). BMI is an estimate of body fatness, based on height and weight.

Being overweight can also increase the risk for breast cancer recurrence. Why the increased risk? Fat cells produce estrogen, which can contribute to the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.

“The recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week,” Dr. Edmunds says. “I recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week in addition to regular resistance training [which uses your own body weight or light weights to build strength, like situps or using resistance bands]."

To manage your weight, aim for regular physical activity as you are able, along with a healthy diet rich in whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean protein, and low in salt, added sugars and saturated fat (which is solid at room temperature, like butter). 

quit smoking
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Quit tobacco

Smoking raises your risk for lung and mouth cancers, but studies suggest it may also increase your risk for breast cancer. For those who have given birth to a child, risk may be particularly increased if you started the smoking before having your first child. If you smoke, talk with your healthcare provider about quitting and how your insurance may help cover the costs.

chicken breast, black beans, salmon
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Choose chicken instead of steak

Women who eat more red meat (1.5 servings a day) have a 22 percent higher risk of breast cancer than those who only eat one serving a week, according to a study that followed 89,000 women over 20 years. The study, published in The BMJ in 2014, also found that replacing one serving of red meat per day with poultry was associated with 17 percent reduced risk of breast cancer. 

Instead of red meat, choose healthier protein like chicken, turkey, fish, beans or nuts.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Breast Cancer. January 12, 2022. Accessed June 29, 2022.
BreastCancer.org. Drinking Alcohol. February 10, 2022. Accessed June 29, 2022.
BreastCancer.org. Being Overweight. February 10, 2022. Accessed June 29, 2022.
Farvid MS, Cho E, et al. Dietary protein sources in early adulthood and breast cancer incidence: prospective cohort study. The BMJ. 2014;348:g3437. 
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention. 2022. Accessed June 29, 2022.
American Heart Association. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. November 1, 2021. Accessed June 29, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. 5 Ways to Boost Breast Health. July 7, 2020. Accessed June 29, 2022.

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