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The Complete Guide to Exercise for Breast Cancer Survivors

Posted Oct 11 2013 3:12pm




I want to follow up to our guest post by Pamela J. Ginsberg, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist specializing in women’s health and wellness and psycho-oncology, and discuss the recommendations for exercise in those people with breast cancer.  I highly encourage you to check out that post .  The benefits of exercise for those undergoing breast cancer and survivors have already been discussed  and the old advice to rest and avoid activity has gone away and science now shows exercise is the way to go (1).


Here are the summary points that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has in their position stand.


  • Medical Clearance.  As always with beginning to exercise, talk to your physician first about what your goals are and if they believe exercise will be right for you.

  • Avoid inactivity.  As much as tolerated cancer patients and survivors should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (1,2).  That’s 20-30 minutes a day for 5-7 days/week.  These guidelines are relevant both during and after treatment.  As difficult as it can be to motivate yourself to perform physical activity during treatments inactivity should be avoided.  Every little bit helps!

  • Individualized.  Exercise programs should be tailored to the specific diagnosis of the cancer patient or survivor.  Not any two people have the exact circumstances and therefore should not necessarily perform the exact exercise program.  There is no cookie cutter approach.

  • Progressive.  A qualified fitness professional, certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist , will be able to monitor the cancer patient or survivors’ responses to activity and safely progress them to avoid injuries (1).  Walking programs are a great way to get started (2).

  • Hit the weights.  Strength training also appears to be beneficial.  General guidelines of 2-3 sessions a week of at least 1 set of 10-15 repetitions for 8-10 major body parts (3).

  • Body Changes.  You may not be able to do everything that you could before your diagnosis.  Weakness, fatigue and difficulty with balance amongst others may be present and you will need to recognize your limits.  An exercise physiologist or certified personal trainer can assist you in correct exercise.

  • Priorities.  Exercise should be made a part of your life, as well as everyone’s lives (2).  Schedule exercise sessions ahead of time and make it routine.  Develop “Plan B’s” to eliminate barriers.

  • Lymphedema.  What is lymphedema ?  To put it simply, lymph nodes and vessels (move fluid in the body) are removed during surgery which makes it harder to remove fluid from the underarm area and results in swelling (4).  Speak about lymphedema with your physician to find out what you should do first for treatment.

    If you are undergoing breast cancer treatment or are a breast cancer survivor and would like to find out more about beginning exercise find a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist to help you plan your exercise safely, progressively and injury free!


    We would love to hear your breast cancer stories, how exercise has helped you and any comments you would like to share!




    1) “New Guidelines Strongly Recommend Exercise for Cancer Patients, Survivors.”  Accessed on October 10, 2013. 2) Rogers, L.Q. (2011).  Exercise as a way to reduce the side effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Accessed on October 10, 2013. 3) “Cancer Survivorship Research: Recovery and Beyond.”  Schwartz, A.L.  2010 Biennial Conference. 4) “Lymphedema: What every woman with breast cancer should know.”  American Cancer Society.  Accessed on October 10, 2013.
    5) Image courtesy of scottchan /


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    Owner, Exercise Physiologist at Body By Brent LLC
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