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Hanging Out—Or Not—With ‘the Girls’

It’s October, and that means there is a lot of talk about breast health. Before I get to my main topic, yes, do regular breast self-examinations and get regular mammograms as recommended. I hope that those health checks find that your breast tissue is normal, and you don’t have to think about ‘the girls’ in a clinical way until your next check. Incidentally, although people have referred to breasts in terms that imply that they are only a female body part—such as mammaries, orbs, bust, melons and more affectionately, ’the girls’—everybody has them.

Alameda Post - A woman holds a pink ribbon up to her chest symbolizing breast cancerAccording to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Each year in the United States, about 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,100 in men. About 42,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer.”

So, guys, I give you that PSA (public service announcement) because your health matters to me, as well. However, the rest of this piece is written for the women in my universe.

Getting the right support

If you work out, you need to wear a sports bra. I’ve heard women say things such as, “Bras must have been invented by men.” Not so. On November 3, 1914, Mary Phelps Jacobs was granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the garment she called a “brassiere.” Sixty-three years later, to solve the problems of exercising in a standard bra—straps that slid off your shoulders, chafing, and sore breasts from lack of support—Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith, and Hinda Schreiber invented the first sports bra. The “jockbra” was conceived when it was suggested that women needed something like a jock strap but for the breasts. The first prototype was two jock straps sewn together. With marketing in mind, the invention was renamed Jogbra.



Alameda Post - A woman runs while wearing a sports bra and leggings

From the Harvard.edu database B10NUMB3R5, the weight of a human female breast is more or less 340 grams. That means that as women, we carry approximately a pound and a half in front of our chest. That’s like a 1.5 lb dumbbell hanging from the front of your chest, supported only by skin and ligaments. Those ligaments, the connective tissue which hold the breasts to your chest, could extend up to two centimeters during high intensity exercise without proper support. We know that skin loses elasticity over time and, when subjected to excessive stretching, sagging is the result. But fitness is crucial to your overall health, and a good sports bra means you’ll need to resort to other excuses, I mean reasons, to not work out.

Finding the right sports bra may make the difference, not only in how vigorously you work out, but whether you work out at all. In a study, The Influence of the Breast on Physical Activity Participation in Females, posted to the Human Kinetics Journal, results found that breasts were a barrier to physical activity participation for 17% of women. “I can’t find the right sports bra,” and “I am embarrassed by excessive breast movement,” were the most influential breast-related barriers to activity. Breast pain increases with vigorous activity and poor breast support. Gaining breast health knowledge increased the use of a sports bra and corresponding levels of physical activity.

Studies have shown that not only do your breasts move during exercise, but their movement is also independent of the rest of your body—out of sync. Research and science have helped the evolution of design, and the modern-day sports bra is far more than a couple of repurposed jock straps holding your assets against your body.

Different types of sports bras

There are two foundational designs:

Compression – These bras compress your breasts to your body. They are very snug fitting and hold your breasts down together to limit movement. They are an option for those with a cup size up to C.

Encapsulation – These bras are closer in fit to a standard bra, encapsulating each breast individually with molded cups. This keeps each breast fully supported and limits movement in all directions. They are recommended for higher impact movements and women with D cups or larger.

With the intention of limiting your breast movement in mind, look for a sports bra that is comfortable and well-made. In addition to being able to focus on your workout, you will experience less discomfort during and after your workout. Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, Professor of Biomechanics has devoted her entire career to sports biomechanics and is known as “The Bra Professor.”

Alameda Post - A sports bra

A University of Portsmouth article about research done by her team shares, “The support of the sports bra aims to help the breasts and the trunk of the body to move as a unit which is more like a man.

“A good sports bra can affect more than just the breast itself. Research from the University of Portsmouth has shown that wearing a sports bra reduces the activity of the pectoral muscle by 55%, which may affect a woman’s muscular fatigue during running.

“Insufficient breast support can significantly increase the forces exerted through the leg and onto the ground during running, which may lead to an increased risk of injury.

“A woman’s choice of breast support can also influence her breathing rate, lung capacity and thermoregulation during exercise.

“The consequences of selecting a bra that provides poor support to the breast may affect elite sports women and recreationally active individuals alike, whether exercising for five minutes or during an endurance event, and during a variety of different activities.”

A good sports bra matters.

Who knew? The girls did. 😉

Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or FitnessByDsign.com. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Denise-Lum.

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