Being told you have breast cancer is tough emotionally, but regular exercise can help you keep your spirits up, a new study shows.

Among Chinese women diagnosed with breast cancer, those reporting even low levels of regular exercise were more likely to report better physical, mental, and social well-being than those reporting no exercise, Dr. Xiaoli Chen of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and colleagues found.

Women who exercised at levels recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fared best. They reported the highest capacity for daily living and work or study, less distress, better body image, and higher quality relationships, the researchers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

In addition, the benefits of exercise were still evident more than 36 months after breast cancer diagnosis, Chen noted in an email to Reuters Health.

Examples of recommended levels of exercise include taking about a 45-minute brisk walk 3 days a week, or a 20-minute brisk walk daily; doing yoga for about 40 minutes 3 times a week or 20 minutes daily; or any aerobic exercise for about 30 minutes 3 times a week or 12 minutes daily.

Chen's team studied the value of exercise in 1,829 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2002 and 2008, when they were nearly 54 years old on average and living in Shanghai, China.

Overall, 95 percent of the women had a mastectomy, 92 percent had chemotherapy and 28 percent had radiation therapy. Approximately 69 percent of the women exercised regularly at 6 months post-diagnosis and 74 percent were exercising regularly 36 months after their diagnosis.

The positive impact of regular exercise on well-being remained when the investigators allowed for numerous other personal characteristics, as well as health and disease related factors associated with quality of life.

These findings provide strong evidence that regular exercise plays an important role in improving quality of life for breast cancer survivors, Chen and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, October 1, 2009