Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatment - What are the Benefits?

By Elizabeth Jimenez, PVHMC Cancer Nurse Navigator

Exercise…the quintessential love-hate relationship. Oh how we could all reap its health benefits without having to lift a finger, but we all know the magic of exercise requires effort. Now what happens when you throw a breast cancer diagnosis, or for that matter any other chronic medical condition, in the mix? Well the love-hate relationship you once had with exercise turns into a long distance relationship, which eventually dissipates into a fond memory.

The reality is, however, that ties between yourself and exercise should not be severed under the circumstances of a cancer diagnosis. In fact, many studies have examined the impact of physical activity on recurrence and long term survival of individuals with cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, studies amongst individuals with breast, colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancer have theorized that physically active survivors have a reduced risk of recurrence and better survival rates in relation to inactive cancer survivors. Although more research must be conducted to truly identify the impact of exercise on recurrence and survival outcomes, we do know that exercise has been shown to improve the following:

  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscle strength
  • Body composition
  • Anxiety
  • Self-esteem
  • Happiness
  • FATIGUE!!

So, why stop? You shouldn’t. All the mentioned benefits are essential in healing your mind and body as you overcome a life-changing diagnosis.

I am not trying to tell you to go out and start a vigorous exercise routine today. In fact, certain circumstances my affect your ability to exercise, for example:

  • Type and stage of cancer
  • Treatment regimen
  • Current fitness level

With that in mind, always consult your doctor before starting or resuming any type of exercise. Also remember that there are many side effects one may experience while undergoing cancer treatment. Don’t pressure yourself to perform at max intensity when struggling with those side effects. It is best to slowly increase exercise time and intensity at a rate your body feels most comfortable with. I always tell my patients - you know your body better than anyone, so listen to it.

By Joan Harper, PVHMC Lymphedema Specialist

Exercise is an integral part of a comprehensive program to treat cancer, reduce the effects of cancer treatments and manage lymphedema. Exercise positively affects the lymphatic system through muscle contraction and deep breathing, decreases stress and controls pain. Three types of exercises are recommended, flexibility, strengthening and aerobic conditioning. The goal of flexibility exercise is to stretch soft tissue, minimizing muscle tightness and the effects of scar tissue and regain normal joint range of motion. The goal of strengthening exercises is to improve joint function and increase bone density. The goal of aerobic conditioning improves cardiovascular fitness and increases deep respiration. Methods of aerobic exercise include walking, cycling and swimming.

Exercise should be initiated slowly, under the recommendation of your doctor and supervision of a physical therapist or certified personal trainer.

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