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Beyond BMI

Toni-Ann DiSantis

Beyond BMI: Increasing muscle may lower your breast cancer risk.

[Daily Dose] Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole truth. Knowing your body-mass index (BMI), a calculation based on the ratio of your weight to your height, is helpful for determining your risk factors for a number of chronic illnesses. In general, the higher your BMI, the higher your risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers, including breast cancer. But BMI doesn’t tell you everything. It does not, for instance, reflect cardiovascular fitness or the body’s levels of muscle and fat. According to new research, postmenopausal women who have a normal BMI but low levels of body fat may have a slightly lower risk of invasive breast cancer than those with a normal BMI and high levels of fat. Here’s why: Body fat produces estrogen, and estrogen in the body can stimulate the growth of certain types of breast cancer, so staying lean (in addition to having a normal BMI) may help you avoid that risk. The takeaway? Don’t obsess about your body composition, but do commit to an exercise routine that builds endurance and strength — even if your BMI is normal. Pick an activity or two that gets your heart rate up, and do it for about a half hour a day, five days a week. Work in strength training two or three times a week, too. Keep it up, and you’ll lower your risk of chronic illness, including breast cancer. And you won’t have to wait long for one of the best benefits: feeling fantastic!