A population-based case-control study of 1,233 incident breast cancer cases and 1,237 controls was conducted in Alberta, Canada, in 1995-1997 to examine the effect of lifetime physical activity patterns on breast cancer risk. No associations between physical activity and breast cancer were found for premenopausal women. For postmenopausal women in the highest quartile (> or =161 metabolic equivalent (MET)-hours/week per year) versus the lowest quartile (<104.8 MET-hours/week per year) of lifetime total physical activity, the adjusted odds ratio was 0.70 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.52, 0.94). When the risks associated with each type of activity were examined for postmenopausal women, household and occupational activity conferred the largest risk reductions (odds ratio (OR) = 0.57, 95% CI: 0.41, 0.79 and OR = 0.59, 95% CI: 0.44, 0.81, respectively, for highest vs. lowest quartiles of activity), while recreational activity was not associated with any risk reductions. For postmenopausal women, the authors found stronger risk reductions for those who were also nonsmokers (OR = 0.64, 95% CI: 0.46, 0.88), non-alcohol-drinkers (OR = 0.39, 95% CI: 0.11, 0.77), or nulliparous (OR = 0.22, 95% CI: 0.07, 0.70) when they compared the highest with the lowest quartile of lifetime total physical activity. This study provides evidence that lifetime total activity reduces risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.