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Exercise Is Important For Breast Cancer Survivors

Posted Apr 25 2011 11:30am
Numerous studies have shown us the importance of exercise.  Getting adequate amounts of physical activity every day is important to our overall health, helps us to maintain a healthy body weight and reduces our risk for a number of disease conditions.  Research has reported that exercise can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer and has many benefits for breast cancer survivors.  However, many breast cancer survivors remain uncertain about the importance of exercise and when they can begin exercising. 

The American College of Sports Medicine recently published the results of their 2009 roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors, including breast cancer survivors.  While these science-based guidelines are mainly meant for health and fitness professionals, it contains a lot of good information for breast cancer survivors themselves.  While the full paper is free to download , I have briefly outlined some of the main points below.

Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatments
  • Examination of the safety of exercise during breast cancer treatment showed that it was safe to exercise during chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Both aerobic exercises and muscle strengthening exercises appeared to be safe and effectively improved aerobic and muscle fitness in breast cancer patients.
  • A number of studies, though not all, reported that exercising during breast cancer treatment helped to reduce body weight, reduce percent body fat, and improve muscle mass.
  • Developing an exercise routine during treatment was shown to improve quality of life, reduce fatigue, and reduce anxiety in several studies.  However, a similar number of studies reported no such benefits of exercise during treatment.
Exercise After Breast Cancer Treatments
  • Aerobic and strength training exercise both are reported to be safe for breast cancer survivors and effectively enhance aerobic and muscle fitness.
  • Studies of flexibility exercises all showed that flexibility in breast cancer survivors was improved when starting a program after breast cancer treatment.
  • Half of the studies on exercise and body composition in breast cancer survivors showed that exercising after breast cancer treatment helped improve one or more aspects of body size or body composition (body weight, percent body fat, lean muscle mass, etc.).
  • There is strong evidence that exercise after treatment improves overall physical function.
  • Upper arm exercises do not appear to contribute to the onset or worsening of upper arm swelling (lymphedema) among breast cancer survivors.
  • There is solid, though mixed, data suggesting that exercise after breast cancer treatment might improve quality of life, reduce fatigue, reduce depresssion and anxiety, and enhance body image in breast cancer survivors.
Overall, this is an important set of guidelines that is worth taking the time to read in its entirety.  Based on this overview of the scientific data, it seems quite clear that it is safe to start exercising as early as during one's breast cancer treatments.  Of course, it is best to discuss the level and types of exercises that would be appropriate for one's specific situation.  In addition to being safe, this set of guidelines clearly indicates that you should be able to see specific improvements related to the form of exercise being done.  That is, you should expect to become more aerobically fit if you follow an aerobic exercise program.  Basically, breast cancer survivors should see the full benefits of their exercise programs.

Perhaps more importantly, it appears that exercise, whether begun during or after breast cancer treatment, might have a number of other benefits.  While the scientific data appears to be mixed, several studies suggest that exercising might improve a breast cancer survivor's quality of life by reducing fatigue, reducing depression and anxiety, and helping to lose weight if needed.  Other studies have also suggested that exercise might improve bone mineral density, physical function, and mood.

If you are a breast cancer survivor, remember to make exercise a part of your recovery process.

To learn about other diet and lifestyle choices to reduce your breast cancer risk, read my FREE book FIGHT NOW: EAT & LIVE PROACTIVELY AGAINST BREAST CANCER . Please recommend to anyone interested in breast cancer, breast cancer treatment, and breast cancer symptoms.
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