Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among females and with our ever improving science and technology the 5 year survival rate is at 90%. Many people are unaware of the link between exercise and breast cancer treatment: exercise has been shown to increase recovery time and improve treatment outcomes. Recent studies have also suggested that targeted exercise can reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.
Exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do during your breast cancer treatment, but it is one of the best things to promote your treatment success! It can help to combat the side effects involved with cancer treatment including nausea, fatigue, reduced bone density, muscle loss, and immune function. It also helps other comorbidities that can occur with breast cancer such as anxiety, depression, sleep, confidence, and stress. “It must be clarified that exercise is NOT an alternative to chemo/radiation therapy, but is a critical synergistic medicine”1
After your cancer treatment your exercise program may need to be individually tailored depending on your overall treatment. However most post treatment exercise programs will involve a combination of range of motion exercises, strengthening, and cardiovascular exercises.
Range of motion, or stretching exercises are important for most cancer survivors, but especially those who have undergone radiation or surgery. The joints and soft tissues surrounding the breasts will have restricted movements so these exercises will gradually improve your flexibility and movement in these scar affected areas.
Strengthening exercises are important to restore muscle strength due to treatment and periods of rest. Strength exercises also help to contract the lymphatic system and reduce lymphedema. Strengthening exercise can be as simple as body weight exercises, small dumbbells, or resistance bands.
Cardiovascular exercise, or aerobic exercise, is commonly prescribed following most cancer treatments. This type of exercise is beneficial for weight management, improved fitness levels, mood boosting, and improved sleep. It can reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence, as well as reduce the risks of developing heart disease and diabetes. Cardio exercise can be as easy as walking, cycling, or swimming.
How Much Exercise?
The amount and duration of exercise will vary among each individual but the recommendations promote that something is better than nothing. Start with 10 minute blocks of walking and accumulate 2-3 of these throughout your day. Keep your intensity moderate. This means you will have a small increase in breathing and heart rate, but should still be able to hold a conversation with a friend!
All exercise is beneficial and will help to protect the heart, lungs, and other vital organs from health complications more prone to people following cancer treatment.
Speak to an exercise professional to get a tailored exercise program or to find out more! Our Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists are able to give you the support and guidance that you need to reach your goals!
By Emmalee Harris – Exercise Physiologist
1 Edith Cowen University – Exercise Medicine Research Institute