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Running better than walking for breast cancer patients

Physical exercise increases the survival chances of cancer patients and cancer survivors, but some forms of exercise are more effective than others. Bio-statistician Paul Williams of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests this in an article that will soon appear in the International Journal of Cancer. Williams discovered that women with breast cancer are more likely to survive if they run than if they walk.


Paul Williams based his study on data collected for the National Runners' and Walkers' Health Studies, in which researchers monitored about one hundred and fifty thousand walkers and runners for almost a decade. In the database Williams found information on 272 runners and 714 walkers who had survived breast cancer.

Running better than walking for breast cancer patients
Williams also had information on the distance the women covered each day and translated this into MET hours. The MET hour is a measurement of the energy you burn as a result of exercising. 1 MET hour is roughly equivalent to 1 km running or 20 minutes of walking.

Scientists say that we need to get in at least 1.8 MET-hours a day. That amounts to walking for 36 minutes or running for 1.8 km.

When Williams corrected his data for factors such as education level, BMI and diet, he noticed that the women in the study who walked more were no better protected against breast cancer than women who walked less. The women who ran were better protected the more they ran.

Running better than walking for breast cancer patients

Among the runners who clocked up 1.07-1.8 MET hours per day the mortality risk was 14.2 percent lower than in the runners who ran less than 1.07 MET hours per day. Among the runners who clocked up 1.8-3.6 MET hours per day the mortality risk was 87.4 percent lower, and among the runners who ran for more than 3.6 MET hours per day the risk was actually 95.4 percent lower.

"Breast cancer mortality in post-diagnosis runners may be lower than that of post-diagnosis walkers", Williams concludes. "And exceeding the public health recommendation for physical activity was better than merely achieving it."

"As less than a third of all breast cancer survivors are reported to even meet the current exercise recommendation, our results suggest that substantial reductions in breast cancer mortality may be achieved by: (i) promoting running rather than walking and (ii) promoting a greater exercise dose than currently recommended."

Williams' study doesn't mean that walking has no effect on breast cancer. Larger studies, with a more representative sampling, do consistently show that exercise such as walking has a protective effect on the survival chances of cancer patients.

Int J Cancer. 2014 Jan 27. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28740. [Epub ahead of print].

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