a path in the woods representing a trail for exercise as well as a journey with breast cancer. Overlay text reads " Exercise: Preventing Recurrence of Breast Cancer"

Exercise and the Prevention of Disease

Planning and implementing a long hike can be similar to what a patient goes through when they have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It can be a daunting task. Recently I challenged myself to travel across Scotland via the West Highland Way. There is so much to consider including, but not limited to, gear, nourishment, logistics, physical capability, and beyond-our-control factors, like predators or the weather.

Trust me. Everyone has advice. There is an abundance of information about what worked best for someone else when they went before you. People will whisper their fears (sometimes yell them) with the hope you will provide them comfort. They will offer tips and tricks. Your most important job will be to sift through what you are willing to carry and what you will leave behind.

Fortunately, trail angels appear out of nowhere and guide you down the right path. They offer you a reprieve because they know how hard the task is at hand. They remind you to do your best with what you have and to keep going until it’s time to stop.

No matter the breadth of research and training you do, there is a certain sense of not being prepared for what lies ahead. The mental aspect of a long hike is critical to your success, whatever you determine that to be. At times your mind will scream out in alarm and make you doubt the capability of your body. But listen to your heart. This is what you’ve chosen for yourself; what you’ve been dreaming of.

Survival from breast cancer may seem to hinge on how much you know and have prepared for future treatments. Family members and caregivers start to worry and micromanage your plans in the hopes of saving you from what danger lies ahead. Advice will be given. Ultimately though it is you who must decide what your body needs and proceed to the best of your ability.

I talk to patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer about the continuum of care: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and estrogen therapy. It is a long haul. Most women want to increase their chances of survival by preventing disease or recurrence of disease. We know that surgery can reduce the chance of recurrence of breast cancer. Every treatment option counts.

Did you know that exercise is the best thing you can do to decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence by up to another 30-50%?  Read more about the four types of exercises: aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility. Exercise decreases inflammation, reduces blood sugar, and reduces estrogen burden. As women become menopausal, they produce estrogen in body fat. Reducing body fat through exercise lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Exercise helps to prevent all the diseases of Western medicine – especially health risks for middle-aged women. Yet a woman who has battled breast cancer might not have other health concerns on her radar. Appointment fatigue is a real thing, however, you cannot become complacent. You still need routine exams and vaccinations. Things like heart disease and osteoporosis are preventable with the right care.

Often times women report not caring for themselves because they are overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. You might not feel like exercising, however, exercise is scientifically proven to decrease stress. 

You can move through any adversity life throws at you. And by move, I literally mean move. The number one thing you can do for your physical and mental health is exercise. A long hike/a long haul IS about the whole woman. You are not just a breast cancer patient. You still have health and longevity needs beyond your diagnosis and treatment. As you walk down this road, listen to your body and know that everything you need to survive is within you. Trust that moving through this is the best thing you can do for yourself.


Please contact Dr. Laura James ND, FABNO if you live in the Bellingham, Washington area and would like to learn more about a naturopathic approach to your wellness, please call 360-738-3230 or CLICK HERE to schedule a consultation.



Schultchen, Dana et al. “Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating.” British journal of health psychology vol. 24,2 (2019): 315-333. doi:10.1111/bjhp.12355

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