Breast cancer statistics can be scary and may leave you feeling like you have no control over whether or not you develop this disease. However, simple lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet can help put you in charge of your own health.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that moderate exercise can actually lower your risk of developing breast cancer, improve cancer treatment and reduce your risk of having a recurrence if you've already had breast cancer.

Benefits of exercise

Some forms of breast cancer are tied directly to hormones, usually estrogen. Extra body fat produces estrogen, thus increasing your risk for estrogen-related cancers. This is why obesity is such a strong risk factor for breast cancer. Medical experts estimate that diet contributes to almost 35 percent of cancers due to people being overweight and inactive. Excess weight is second only to smoking as a clear and avoidable cause of cancer.

By exercising regularly, you'll maintain a healthy weight and reduce the likelihood your body will produce excess hormones. The good news is, it doesn't matter what age you start exercising-you'll still reap the benefits. If you are already at risk of breast cancer due to a family history, for example, exercise may be especially important.

If the thought of intensive physical activity makes you groan, take heart. Moderate exercise, such as walking three to five hours per week at an average pace, is all you need. The American Cancer Society recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days every week; 45 to 60 minutes is even better. The key is consistency and to continue to be active regardless of your age.

What if you've already had breast cancer?

Keep exercising. It's just as important during and after cancer treatment. Exercise minimizes the likelihood you will gain weight from chemotherapy, and some women say it helps them tolerate treatment side effects. It also improves your prognosis.

Maintaining a consistent exercise program following cancer treatment reduces your risk of recurrence, especially if you've had estrogen-related breast cancer, are overweight or were at an advanced stage when diagnosed. Furthermore, exercise boosts your immune system, which is compromised during cancer treatment.