Breast size 'significantly impacts' the type of exercise women do, finds new study. Here's what can help.

Breast size influences women's attitudes towards exercise
Having large breasts influences women's attitudes toward exercise. (Photo illustration: Ivana Cruz for Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

Women with larger breasts may be more reluctant to exercise regularly — but breast reduction surgery may change that, according to a new study.

A woman's cup size has previously been linked to back pain and time spent exercising, but this seems to be the first study to associate breast reduction surgery with improved workout habits.

What the study says

The small study found that women with larger breasts participated more in recreational group exercises after having breast reduction surgery.

What are the key findings?

The study, which was published in the Journal of Reconstructive Surgery, analyzed data from nearly 2,000 women who were involved in the Parkrun program in Australia, England and South Africa. (The Parkrun program promotes 5K running and walking events around the world for all ages and fitness levels.)

The researchers found that women who had bigger breasts believed that reducing their cup size would improve their exercise performance and participation in the program. They also said their breast size "significantly impacts" the type of exercise they do.

But all 56 women in the study who had undergone breast reduction surgery said they exercised more, enjoyed working out more and were more willing to exercise in a group than their large-breasted counterparts who didn't have surgery.

The researchers also found that people with B-cup bras were the most likely to report that they exercised four or more times a week. The data even show a link between speed and the size of women's breasts, with a steady decline in times between women with AA cups to DD cups.

"This study supports the existing literature that breast size can impact exercise habits and demonstrates that women who have undergone breast reduction participate in healthier lifestyle practices," the researchers wrote in the conclusion. "We suggest that if breast size impacts women's participation in sport and fitness, health practitioners and policymakers should advocate for better access to reduction mammoplasty in the publicly funded health sector."

Lead study author Dr. Claire Baxter, a clinical registrar in reconstructive surgery at the Flinders Medical Centre in Australia, tells Yahoo Life that some study participants provided commentary on their exercise habits related to their breast size. Some women who had breast reduction surgery shared these:

  • "Prior to breast reduction surgery, I would wear three or four layers to hold my breasts down. I'd be self-conscious at group exercise sessions and even changed running routes sometimes so as not to run past places where I knew men might heckle me. I would suffer back pain and also struggle to carry out some exercises — e.g., burpees or skipping. Since having surgery, the amount of different exercises that I'm able to complete has increased significantly. I'm now fitter and healthier."

  • "I always wanted to run, but there was no chance with my previous-size breasts because it was too uncomfortable even wearing two sports bras. Also, it made me self-conscious, as people would stare."

What experts think

Women's health expert Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life that the findings are "not surprising." She adds, "Women with larger breasts tend to avoid high-impact exercise and, as a result, tend to exercise less often than women with smaller breasts."

Personal trainer Sandy Sklar, co-owner of Prescriptive Fitness, tells Yahoo Life that she's also not shocked by the findings. "I have worked with women during my training career who have larger breasts. Certain types of exercises — high-impact, plyometrics — can be uncomfortable for some," she says.

The biggest concern for many is comfort, Sklar says. "Exercise can be uncomfortable and more difficult for women with larger breasts due to heavier breast tissue that moves ‘with you’ during workouts," she says. "It’s also hard to find good supportive sports bras that fit and can accommodate intense workouts."

Baxter says the findings have larger health implications for women. "Being able to participate in regular exercise is important to overall health, and identifying barriers to participation and performance is essential," she says. Wider agrees: "Not getting enough exercise can be detrimental to your cardiac and overall health."

Why it matters

Experts say the findings underscore that having larger breasts can affect how consistently a woman exercises, but they stress that there are options.

"Finding the right size supportive bra is key," Wider says, noting that women may need to try several types before finding one that's a good fit. She urges women to "address the issue — don't avoid exercise."

Sklar also suggests talking to a trainer at your local gym about options if you're struggling with breast pain during workouts. "I adjust workouts as needed and tend to avoid high-impact exercises," she says. "Fortunately, I haven’t encountered many limitations with traditional strength training."

Baxter says it's important for people to be aware that this is a potential problem for women. "We should be working to reduce all barriers to participating in regular exercise and therefore maintaining a healthy lifestyle," she says.