6 Best Tips on how you can Exercise with Breast Cancer

Most doctors usually recommend very low-impact and also non-strenuous exercise when one is going through breast cancer treatment. I know your thought: “I have breast cancer. I’m making sure am able to take care of my family and my life in general. I’m also trying to hold down a job even with the challenges. I’m  so sick. I’m in pain as well. It is difficult to get out of bed. And you want me to do EXERCISE? Are you serious?” my dear  I’ve been there.

Luckily, there are different kinds of fun and moderate exercises you can do, such as:

  • walking
  • yoga
  • Pilates
  • tai chi
  • dancing
  • bed and couch movements

And trust me, exercise and movement were vital for my sanity and recovery during my treatment. Here’s some exercising tips as you go through treatment. And don’t forget to communicate with your doctor to ensure you’re exercising at the appropriate exertion level for your condition.

1. Feel free to exercise at your own pace

6 Best Tips on how you can Exercise with Breast Cancer

Start gradually and build upon each day. On the days I was feeling extra spunky, I would park farther away at the hospital parking lot and enjoy a few extra steps on my way to and from treatment. You’ll be surprised how even the smallest effort will help you both physically and emotionally.

2. Even the smallest movement can count

Even during my worst days, when I was couch-bound, I still made an effort to do something. I would do a few leg lifts or slow air punches with my arms while lying on the couch. It helped me mentally more than anything. If you’re bedridden or couch-bound, do some very light movements to keep the blood flowing and lift your spirits.

3. Practice restraint

Honor your body and what you’re going through. A few months after my lumpectomy, I was at the playground with my stepson and decided to chase him across the monkey bars. This was a very normal activity precancer. In that moment, I completely forgot I was post-surgery and in the middle of treatment. As my entire body weight was hanging from the bars, I felt the scar tissue along my breast and side rip and I was in excruciating pain. Oops.

And with side effects like dizziness and vertigo, it doesn’t matter what the latest article says about the health benefits of aerial yoga. Exercises that involve a lot of movement where your head is below your waist can be extremely dangerous. I also learned very quickly that burpees aren’t recommended when you have vertigo.

Even on your good days, don’t forget that you’re going through treatment.

4. Don’t worry about what others think

One of the most important lessons I learned while exercising during treatment was not to worry about others.

6 Best Tips on how you can Exercise with Breast Cancer

I frequently worked out at the gym at my office for strength training and light jogging on the treadmill. I was bald from chemo. Wearing a wig or scarf during my workout was out of the question — they made me too hot. I’m sure I was a sight to behold.

I eventually got to the point where I didn’t care how I looked. I worked out sporting my bald head and lymphedema sleeve and sang along with the tunes on my iPod. What I didn’t anticipate were the countless individuals who approached me to let me know how much I inspired them with my grit and strength to fight.

5. Remember that exercise has its benefits

Many doctors worry that strength training can trigger the onset of lymphedema, which is the swelling of the soft tissues of the arm. If you’ve had breast cancer surgery, and especially if lymph nodes were removed, you’re inherently at risk for lymphedema. But benefits of exercise may outweigh the risks by far.

For example, exercise triggers apoptosis, the death of cancer cells, and helps cut your odds from dying from cancer.

Exercise can

  • boost energy
  • reduce fatigue
  • prevent weight gain
  • manage stress and anxiety
  • improve bone health
  • improve heart health
  • improve sleep
  • prevent constipation

6. Practice safety

Here are some things to keep in mind while exercising during treatment.

Always talk to your physicians and especially a lymphedema specialist before embarking on an exercise program. They may recommend for you to be fitted with a compression sleeve to help minimize the swelling in your arm.

The routine you used to do before cancer may not be appropriate during treatment. Your doctor can also help clear you on which exercises you can do on your own and which you may need help from a physical therapist.

A little extra motivation

Don’t forget about the endorphins! Exercise produces endorphins in your body, and endorphins help make you feel happy. Being happy is much needed during cancer treatment. When I was in a full-blown cancer funk, I would put on my favorite ‘’80s playlist and dance like I was a teenager again. Even if it was for one or two songs, dancing always lifted my spirits.

Here’s my survivor playlist of upbeat, girl power, cancer blasting music to work out to.

  • “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — Diana Ross
  • “Fight Song” — Rachel Platten
  • “Fighter” — Christina Aguilera
  • “Shake It Off” — Taylor Swift
  • “So What” — P!NK
  • “Stronger” — Kelly Clarkson
  • “Survivor” — Destiny’s Child
  • “Umbrella” — Rihanna

Frequently Asked Questions

Getting regular exercise may increase how long some women with breast cancer live, results from a new study show. A new study adds to existing evidence linking physical activity with longer survival in women diagnosed with high-risk breast cancer.
Start slowly and build up the amount of physical activity over time. Build up to 150-300 minutes of moderate (or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity) activity each week. Exercise several times a week for at least 10 minutes at a time. Include resistance training exercise at least 2 days per week.
Walking is an easy way to get aerobic exercise. For example, your health care team may suggest walking 40 to 50 minutes, 3 to 4 times per week, at a moderate pace. Strength training. Muscle loss often happens when a person is less active during cancer treatment and recovery.
It’s thought that physical activity regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin, which can fuel breast cancer growth. Regular exercise also helps women stay at a healthy weight, which also helps regulate hormones and helps keep the immune system healthier.
Start with short sessions of 10-15 minutes, three to five days per week, of walking or another low-impact aerobic exercise. If this feels great, build up to 30-60 minutes of activity three to five days per week. While undergoing treatment, try to continue your usual physical activity.
Cardiovascular exercise, sometimes called “cardio”, is the type of exercise which increases your heart rate, and may cause you to break a sweat. This type of workout is recommended 30 minutes, five times a week (or 150 minutes per week), and includes exercises like walking, running, rowing, bike riding, or swimming.
“Our research shows that exercise affects the production of several molecules and metabolites that activate cancer-fighting immune cells and thereby inhibit cancer growth,” says Helene Rundqvist, senior researcher at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, and the study’s first author.
Research now suggests that chronic stress can actually make cancer spread faster. Stress can speed up the spread of cancer throughout the body, especially in ovarian, breast and colorectal cancer. When the body becomes stressed, neurotransmitters like norepinephrine are released, which stimulate cancer cells.
Drinking lots of fluids and eating well can help keep your energy reserves up. If nausea and vomiting make it hard to eat, talk to your doctor about these side effects. Get moving. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, riding a bike and swimming, throughout the week may help you preserve your energy level.
Many cancer patients enjoy knitting or crocheting during chemotherapy to pass the time. Origami is also a fun hobby to learn. These crafts keep the hands busy, and you’ll be creating a fun product that can be a gift. These activities offer brain health benefits as they maintain or improve memory and cognitive function.
It’s not just intense exercise that’s related to a decreased risk of breast cancer. Women who get activity equal to walking 30 minutes a day have about a 3 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who aren’t active
Although it’s not clear whether breast cancer is a direct result of stress, it appears that stress can have an impact on people who already have or had breast cancer. From a biological standpoint, it would make sense that stress could stimulate breast cancer to grow or spread.
Exercise and lymphedema. The PAL trial looked at the benefits of weight lifting for survivors and found that starting very light and progressively lifting heavier weights may be better than not exercising an arm at risk for lymphedema after breast cancer.
Sugar doesn’t directly cause breast cancer, or any type of cancer for that matter. However, excess energy intake, particularly from processed sugars which contain no significant nutritional value, can cause weight gain and can lead to obesity. Obesity increases the risk of various cancers, including breast cancer.
About 20% of breast cancers have extra HER2 proteins. This protein makes cancers grow faster. New treatments that work by targeting HER2 have improved the outlook for women with this breast cancer subtype.
According to the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, getting more physical activity is associated with a lower risk for several types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon, endometrium, and possibly pancreatic cancer.
People who don’t get enough sleep tend to have lower melatonin levels. Lower melatonin levels may lead to patterns of breast cell growth and repair that make breast cancer more likely to develop.
People who experience cancer fatigue often describe it as “paralyzing.” Usually, it comes on suddenly and is not the result of activity or exertion. With this type of fatigue, no amount of rest or sleep helps. You feel physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted most of the time.
International guidelines say that it is safe to be active during cancer treatment and after. Also, people with cancer should try to be active and get back to their normal activities as soon as possible.
These experts say that exercise is safe during and after all breast cancer treatments, as long as you take any needed precautions and keep the intensity low. Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis and treatment. Take part in regular physical activity.
For Women with Breast Cancer, Regular Exercise May Improve Survival. Getting regular exercise may increase how long some women with breast cancer live, results from a new study show. A new study adds to existing evidence linking physical activity with longer survival in women diagnosed with high-risk breast cancer.
It’s thought that physical activity regulates hormones including estrogen and insulin, which can fuel breast cancer growth. Regular exercise also helps women stay at a healthy weight, which also helps regulate hormones and helps keep the immune system healthier.’
Studies have shown that physical exercise can reduce cancer incidence. It can inhibit cancer growth and metastasis, improve the side effects resulting from cancer treatment, improve patients’ tolerance to treatment, and improve their quality of life.
Start with short sessions of 10-15 minutes, three to five days per week, of walking or another low-impact aerobic exercise. If this feels great, build up to 30-60 minutes of activity three to five days per week. While undergoing treatment, try to continue your usual physical activity.
Being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and to a lesser degree, eating fruits and vegetables and not smoking are linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Other guidelines are good for your overall health and may be linked to a lower risk of other types of cancer.