Surviving breast cancer can be life changing. After treatment many women start to think about ways to be healthier. Finding ways to develop or keep-up healthy habits, like being active, is an important part of that.
Starting and keeping an active lifestyle can be challenging. Chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy, can affect your energy levels, cause muscle aches, neuropathies, lymphedema and some women might feel unsure of what to do for exercise.
While being active during treatment is a personal choice, in most cases health care professionals encourage it. Being active after treatment also has many health benefits. From helping you feel less tired to getting your muscle strength back, physical activity can improve your overall health and well-being during this time. Everyone is unique, but aerobic physical activity, resistance training, and range of motion exercises are safe and beneficial for most women.
It is important to talk to your oncologist before you begin a physical activity program to makes sure it’s right for you. The general information provided here does not replace working with a Qualified Exercise Professional.
Aerobic exercise: Researchers and doctors agree that cancer survivors should avoid inactivity. How much exercise you can do after treatment depends on your fitness level before diagnosis. It also depends on how active you are during treatment and how you feel afterwards (that is, whether your energy is high or low). If you were active before, you may be tempted to jump right back into things. Instead, it’s recommended to gradually return to moderate-intensity exercise and then to vigorous-intensity. If you are just starting with physical activity or feel tired, start with low-intensity exercise (for example, 10-15 minutes of walking) every day and build up to gain fitness and more energy. Many women say that aerobic exercise helped them achieve a healthier weight and better mood after treatment!
Resistance exercise: A lot of breast cancer survivors safely enjoy the benefits of resistance training. Again, the key is to start easy and slowly buildup overtime. This is called progressive resistance training and it’s best to work with a professional, at least in the beginning. This type of training does not increase the risk of lymphedema. Rather, it can help increase quality of life by, for example, giving you back the ability to lift heavy things. Some cancer treatment may lower bone density, so another huge benefit of resistance training is that it keeps your bones strong.
Range of motion: After surgery on the breast or lymph nodes, it can be hard to move your arm in the same ways you were able to before. Slowly increasing your range of motion using simple stretching exercises is very helpful.
Breast cancer survivors have a strong voice and the community has created many options to be active together. In British Columbia, there is the CIBC Run for the Cure and the Abreast In A Boat breast cancer survivor dragon boating program: evidence that breast cancer survivors are living full and active lives.
Just as each person is unique, so are the activities that one enjoys. Doing something you enjoy is key to finding ways to be more active in your life. Healthlink BC can help you find the best physical activity for you, simply call 8-1-1 to talk with our Qualified Exercise Professionals.