Modern beauty standards often emphasize breast size — but as many well-endowed women can tell you, having breasts that are overlarge in proportion to your frame can range from inconvenient to downright painful. You can use exercise to reduce breast size, but only to a certain point, which is different for every woman. Ultimately, breast size is determined by a number of factors including genetics, past pregnancies, hormone levels, and how much connective and mammary tissue you have in your breasts.
Your breasts contain notable amounts of adipose (fatty) tissue, so if you exercise enough, the amount of fat in them will decrease — and they'll get smaller. However, many other factors, including genetics, past pregnancies and hormone levels affect your breast size too.
Fat Loss and Spot Reduction
Although exercise can shift your overall body fat percentage and thus affect your breast size, you can't target the fat in your breasts. The idea of spot-reducing fat is nothing but a myth. Just as you can't really control where your body chooses to add fat, you can't control where the fat comes off from — both are determined by a number of factors, including genetics and hormone levels.
But if you exercise enough to lose fat all over your body, it'll eventually come off whatever body part you want to target — in this case, your breasts. The trick to losing body fat is to create a calorie deficit, or to burn more calories than you take in.
Exercise is a big part of establishing this deficit. The more you work out, the more calories you'll burn, but you'll get the best results from combining exercise with a healthy diet. This is borne out by findings from the National Weight Control Registry, which show that most participants used a combination of both exercise and a healthy diet to help them lose the weight and keep it off.
Exercising With Large Breasts
If you're trying to lose weight to reduce large breasts, it can feel like a painful catch-22. The more you work out, the more it hurts, but in order to reduce your body fat, you really need to work out.
The pain from exercising is not in your head. Unsupported movement can send your breasts in almost any direction, and the amount of movement can increase drastically as you shift from lower-impact exercises, such as walking, to higher-impact exercises like running.
According to an April 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, breasts — in particular, breast pain and embarrassment over excessive breast movement — were a barrier to physical activity for 17 percent of the women surveyed. The best solution for breast pain and movement is a supportive sports bra.
Most sports bras use compression or encapsulation — or a combination of both — to support your breasts. If you're large-busted, you'll probably be most comfortable with a bra that uses encapsulation or a combination of encapsulation and compression. As a bonus, encapsulation bras also tend to give you more of a natural breast shape and less of the "uniboob" shape produced by most compression sports bras.
Read more: The Results of Exercise on the Female Breast
With a good sports bra, much of the support comes from the band, not the straps. But those straps can still dig into your shoulders, so most sports bras made to accommodate large breasts will also have wide, padded shoulder straps to reduce the discomfort.
Exercise to Reduce Breast Size
If you and your doctor have decided that you should use exercise to reduce breast size for now, or if you know you have some excess body fat and you're curious to see how slimming down will affect your breast size and shape, how much should you work out?
A good first target is the amount of physical activity recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to maintain good physical health, which is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. That works out to about 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, five days a week.
You may need more physical activity than this to lose that excess body fat, but it's a good place to start. From there, you can gradually increase your workout duration, frequency or intensity until you start seeing the results you want.
If you're large-breasted, high-impact activities like running and step aerobics may be painful due to the amount of breast movement they cause. Although a good sports bra can help a lot, low-impact exercises can be very effective for weight loss too.
Don't be afraid to look into low-impact exercises, such as walking, cycling, swimming, ballroom dancing and running on an elliptical trainer.
Eat Healthy for Fat Loss
How you eat can have an enormous effect on your body composition, or how much fat you carry on your body. If you're really serious about losing the excess fat that you may be carrying in your breasts, you'll get the best results — and feel better doing it — if you pair physical activity with a healthy diet.
Start by using the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services table of estimated calorie needs to get a rough estimate of how many calories you should be eating per day based on your age, gender and how physically active you are. Next, follow the Dietary Guidelines' key recommendations for a healthy diet that'll give your body the fuel it needs to stay active.
- Focus on eating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, and high-fiber whole grains.
- Limit your fat intake from dairy foods.
- Eat high-quality proteins including seafood, lean meats, egg, legumes, and nuts and seeds.
- Limit your intake of unhealthy saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar and added sodium.
If using exercise to reduce breast size hasn't produced results, or hasn't produced enough results, you might be a candidate for surgical breast reduction. Together, you and your doctor will decide which approach is best for your needs.
Obesity can be a contraindication for breast reduction surgery. Plus, it's impossible to exactly predict the effects of weight loss on your breast shape and size. For this reason, your doctor might advise you to try using exercise to reduce breast fat first, even if breast reduction surgery is probably in the cards for you later.
- ExRX.net: "Spot Reduction Myth"
- The National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- Mayo Clinic: "Breast Reduction Surgery"
- National Health Service: "How a Well-Fitted Sports Bra Can Reduce Breast Pain"
- Journal of Physical Activity and Health: "The Influence of the Breast on Physical Activity Participation in Females"
- Sports Bras Direct: "What Does 'Compression' or 'Encapsulation' Actually Mean?"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Health.gov: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Health.gov: "Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"