The Feel-better Lifestyle: Lowering Your Breast Cancer Risk

Patient Expert

Being overweight is a proven breast cancer risk. But how do you avoid packing on those extra pounds post-menopause? Now’s the time to examine both your diet, and your exercise habits — and potentially tweak them into a new lifestyle plan.

Some post-menopausal weight gain is inevitable. According to JoAnn V. Pinkerton, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society, the average woman will gain 12 to 15 pounds between the ages of 45 and 55 (typically when menopause occurs).

Why does this happen? As menopause progresses and estrogen production decreases, your body seeks another source — and finds it in fat cells, which produce estrogen. Your body transforms calories into fat at an increased rate, in order to up your estrogen levels — which raises your weight.

Your goal: limit weight gain. According to the American Cancer Society, having a body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 or higher after menopause raises breast cancer risk. So first, identify whether you’re overweight by using this simple BMI tool.

Be aware, though, that not all body types can be accurately evaluated by a BMI assessment; some super-fit women have a high BMI due to increased muscle mass. It’s important for you to speak with your doctor about your BMI, and how relevant it is to your overall health.

If you’ve decided you’re overweight and could afford to lose a few pounds, understand it won’t be easy. Your metabolism slows as you age, so in order to lose weight you have to cut calories — always a challenge.

Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, but calorie reduction is the key to weight loss. If you plan to diet, check with your doctor; you may have other health conditions that could preclude certain types of weight-loss regimens.

When you’re ready to start, here’s some advice on how to lose weight (and reduce your breast cancer risk) — without feeling like you’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

breast cancer risk infographic

Losing weight might be hard work — but it beats having cancer!

See More Helpful Articles:

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Pleasure Without Guilt: Banana Bliss Soft-Serve

Top 10 Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Risks and Benefits: Understanding the Statistics That Affect You

Stay Healthy – Keep Moving!

Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.