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Aug 14, 2014 09:37 AM EDT

Regular physical activity lowers the risk of developing breast cancer among African-American women, according to a new study by researchers at the Boston University Medical Center.

For the study, the researchers from Boston's Slone Epidemiology Center, analysed data from the Black Women's Health Study (BWHS). They collected information about exercise habits like duration of exercise per week and type of physical activities. The researchers followed over 44,000 African American women over a period of 16 years to determine whether they developed breast cancer.

The researchers found that women who vigorously exercised (basketball, swimming, running and aerobics) for seven or more hours every week were 25 percent less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who exercised less than one hour during the same time period.  

They observed similar results in women who walked briskly. However, there was no benefit found while walking at a normal pace.

"Although expert review panels have accepted a link between physical exercise and breast cancer incidence, most study participants have been white women. This is the first large scale study to support that vigorous exercise may decrease incidence of breast cancer in African American women," Lynn Rosenberg, ScD, professor of Epidemiology and principal investigator of the Black Women's Health Study, said in a press release.

The finding is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Engaging in physical activity following breast cancer diagnosis prolongs survival rate and enhances quality of life. However, a recent University of North Carolina study found that most patients did not meet the national physical activity guidelines following their breast cancer diagnosis. The researchers said that african-American women were less likely to meet the guidelines than their white counterparts.

"Medical care providers should discuss the role physical activity plays in improving breast cancer outcomes with their patients, and strategies that may be successful in increasing physical activity among breast cancer patients need to be comprehensively evaluated and implemented," said Brionna Hair, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a press release.

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