We all know that exercise is beneficial for our health. Regular activity can:

  • help us complete daily activities with more ease and less fatigue
  • enhance muscle strength, which can help prevent falls by improving balance
  • help prevent high blood pressure
  • improve our flexibility
  • improve heart function, even to the point of reversing heart disease in some instances
  • help maintain our joint and bone health, which can prevent osteoporosis and arthritis
  • decrease aches and pains caused by arthritis

But research is now confirming that for breast cancer survivors, the benefits can be even more compelling. Scientific studies involving breast cancer survivors has revealed that exercise can help enhance:

  • weight management
  • self-esteem
  • memory (i.e. reduce the symptoms of “chemo brain”)
  • bone and muscle strength
  • Life expectancy.
  • chances of longevity.

In breast cancer survivors, physical activity has also been shown to help reduce:

  • symptoms from treatment (e.g. fatigue)
  • arthritic symptoms
  • anxiety
  • menopausal symptoms
  • depression
  • the likelihood of developing another breast cancer
  • the likelihood of dying from breast cancer.

Unfortunately, breast cancer survivors can have an elevated risk of:

  • memory problems
  • osteoporosis (fragile bones)
  • heart disease
  • lymphedema (swelling in the arm)
  • developing a second breast cancer.

However, regular physical activity can help reduce these risks, and even prevent some of these conditions. Of course, understanding the benefits that exercise can deliver, can also help motivate you to be more active.

Frequency of Exercise

Experts suggest at least 30* minutes, at least five times a week, at a moderate intensity. These types of activities are those that cause you to breathe harder, but not to the point where you are out of breath or struggling to talk. Exercises of a moderate intensity will typically see you beginning to sweat after around 10 minutes. Brisk walking is an example of this level of activity.

If you are able to do so, you may prefer exercises of a higher intensity. Such exercises are typically those that cause your heart to beat fast and make you puff to the point where it would be hard to hold a conversation with someone else. Common examples of high intensity activities are running, squash, or cycling up a hill. If you opt for these types of activities, then it’s recommended that you do them for a minimum of 20* minutes, at least three times a week.

Additionally, it is recommended that twice a week, you undertake resistance-training exercises, to help build your muscular strength.

*It is important to understand, you do not need to complete the 30 or 20 recommended minutes, all in one session. It is absolutely fine to break these up into 10-minute blocks of activity, which you complete throughout the day.

Warning Signs

Should you experience any of the following symptoms during exercise, immediately stop and call your doctor:

  • pain in the chest
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • an irregular heart beat/pulse
  • unusual muscle weakness
  • pain or cramps in your legs
  • extreme fatigue
  • unusual pain in joints or bones
  • blurry vision
  • numbness in feet or hands
  • dizziness
  • fever
  • chills
  • fainting

Many of these symptoms can be prevented with adequate stretching and hydration. It’s essential to avoid dehydration, which can be done by drinking fluids before and after exercise. For every 15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, aim to consume one extra cup of water. You can do this by carrying a water bottle with you during activity.

Side Effects

It’s not unusual for some side effects from chemotherapy and other treatments (e.g. nausea, fatigue) to stay with you into your survivorship. While these side effects may prevent you from feeling like exercising, try and remember that physical activity can actually help reduce some of these side effects. Try and identify if there are particular times in the day where the side effects are less restrictive (e.g. in the mornings); this would then be the best time for you to do some type of physical activity that you enjoy and are capable of doing. Always remember to start slowly. You will probably find that once you start becoming more active more regularly, the side effects will become less and less as your physical activities progress.

If Your Cancer Returns…

If your cancer returns, it’s understandable that continuing an exercise program may feel like the last thing you want to do. The thing is, exercise can have a positive mental and physical impact while you’re undergoing treatment. Such benefits are:

  • reduced nausea, vomiting and fatigue
  • an improved immune system
  • an increase in muscle
  • a decreased in body fat
  • enhanced mood, happiness and self-esteem
  • an increased ability to complete day-to-day activities.

Exercising while undergoing treatment may also improve your ability to tolerate the treatments.

When it comes to exercise, something is usually better than nothing. By continuing to stay physically active during and after your treatment, you’ll have a better chance of feeling better, recovering faster, and experiencing less treatment-related symptoms.

This information is sourced from Behaviour Medlab

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