Restore Physical Well-Being Exercise
It’s not uncommon if, after breast cancer treatment, you’re running low on energy, feeling fatigued, stressed or a bit “low spirited.” Fatigue, limited range of motion and even fear of moving sore areas might make you shy away from exercise. But a decrease in physical activity as a result of breast cancer treatment can lead to tiredness and lack of energy.
The right kind of exercise, guided by trained professionals, can be of great benefit as you recover from breast cancer. Regular exercise can help you stay active and increase your energy level. Even during treatment, it is advantageous to engage in light exercise regularly. In fact, a recent study showed that women with breast cancer who exercised during treatment felt like they had more energy and did not gain as much weight as patients who did not.
One of the best things about exercise is that it can be both relaxing and energizing. It increases the level of endorphins in your body. They help reduce tension, fatigue, weakness and depression. Also, exercise can help you restore and maintain range of motion, flexibility and strength to areas of the body that might have been affected by treatment.
In addition, exercise can improve your posture, alleviate stiffness, help you prevent scar tissue or frozen shoulder --adhesive capsulate, a condition that results in restricted motion in the shoulder joint -- and much more. Most important, the ultimate benefit of exercise is that it can increase your "fighting spirit" in overcoming treatment.
Also, if you have had surgery and lymph node removal, doing specific exercises to regain strength and range of motion in your chest and arm areas, shoulders and back will help you resume some of your regular physical activities at a faster rate.
Some women who are recovering from breast cancer may feel extra protective of their chest area. It might even take some time for them to feel comfortable standing up straight or doing more than the simplest of movements. In the early stages, an exercise program for breast cancer recovery will develop slowly. Simple moves, such as deep breathing and small stretches, can enliven the body from the inside without causing undue stress. While it is important to gently increase the range of motion in the chest, shoulder and arms, for some women this area may feel like a new landscape -- with new sensations and sensitivities. The area may be stiff and sore, and it can be scary to move because it is uncomfortable. Making slow and steady progress will help women gain confidence and get comfortable with their bodies.
Another benefit of exercise is that moving your muscles also moves lymph fluids. This is helpful in keeping lymph from building up and, possibly, causing lymphedema, one of the significant risks of breast cancer surgery.
You should probably consider wearing a compression sleeve when you exercise, especially if you lift weights or do yoga, to prevent any potential for more swelling. Zensah makes a good one to use while exercising. Recent studies have shown that moderate weight lifting can help prevent flare-ups of lymphedema.
Many women find that, both during and after breast cancer treatment, they feel better when they stay active. Walking, yoga and swimming can keep you strong, increase your energy and give you an emotional boost. It might even help reduce joint or bone pain.
Dr. Michelle Holmes, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard, reports in her research that breast cancer survivors who spent 3 to 5 hours each week (or about half an hour a day) doing exercise had the best survival rates. And for the prevention of breast cancer recurrence, the American Cancer Society recommends that you exercise for 30 minutes to 45 minutes at least five days each week.
Regular exercise and a diet that is low in fat and high in fruits and cruciferous vegetables, as recommended by The Cancer Project, lower your levels of estradiol and estrone, two kinds of estrogen. Although women need estrogen to mature and to create strong bones, overexposure to estrogen can lead to breast cancer.
Eighty percent of all breast cancers are fueled by estrogen. Exercise is a natural way to reduce your estrogen levels, as well as reducing other hormones and growth factors that can cause breast cells to turn into cancer.
There is also evidence to prove that yoga has many benefits for breast cancer survivors. Researchers at the University of Rochester have concluded that practicing twice a week can improve sleep quality, decrease dependency on medications and mitigate some of the fatigue that follows intensive chemotherapy. Another study conduced by Dr. Laura Porter, of Duke University, found that a tailored yoga program helped relieve severe hot flashes and other bothersome menopausal symptoms.
Whatever your preferred activity, be sure to consult your doctor before you start, and if your activity causes you pain or other problems, let your doctor know.
If you don’t have a previous exercise history, you should:
If you were already in the habit of exercising, be mindful of where you are in your recovery and gradually ease back into your regular routine. Remember, your muscles will be weak from chemotherapy, so you don’t want to cause any unnecessary injuries or setbacks during your recovery.
- Make sure you start slowly, allowing your body time to adjust.
- Keep a regular exercise schedule. Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week.
- Find the right kind of exercise. It should never make you feel sore, stiff or exhausted. If you experience soreness, stiffness, exhaustion or feel out of breath as a result of exercise, you are overdoing it.
- Not overdo it. The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling and low-impact aerobics (taught by a certified instructor). These activities carry little risk of injury and benefit your entire body.
The following resources provide detailed information to help you learn more about how exercise can help restore you and your life back to normalcy.
Exercise and breast cancer
Breast Cancer Recovery/ Breast Surgery Exercise Video
Exercise, Yoga Benefit Breast Cancer Survivors
The Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Survivors
Yoga Program Benefits Breast Cancer Survivors
Yoga Training May Facilitate Breast Cancer Recovery
Yoga Linked to Better Sleep for Cancer Survivors
Stay a Step Ahead of Breast Cancer with Exercise
Exercise and Green Tea May Help Breast Cancer Survivors Beat the Blues
Position Statement of The National Lymphedema Network on Exercise
For more information on exercise, go to Resources. You can share your knowledge and experience with other survivors at Survivor Tips or start a discussion in our Partner Forum.