Breast Cancer and Exercising

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Exercising Keeps Breast Cancer Survivors Happier and Healthier Longer

According to a recent Reuters article, regular exercise keeps breast cancer survivors alive longer. While understanding that daily exercise directly correlates with health may not be new to some of our readers, it is important that we remind ourselves of the impact it can have.

According to Reuters, several lifestyle changes can drastically improve life after a breast cancer diagnosis, however regular exercise is substantially a better habit to establish, researchers say.

Women with breast cancer, whether newly diagnosed or at any time in their “survivorship” phase, must exercise regularly to avoid common weight gain, said Dr. Ellen Warner from the Odette Cancer Center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who coauthored the research review.

In the research, they found that regular physical activity reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer by a staggering 40% in comparison to women who did not exercise. Gaining weight during or after breast cancer treatment is risky – it increases the chance of recurrence and decreases survival rates, the review concludes. Unfortunately, studies show that less than 13% of women with breast cancer are active for the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity.

So, what types of exercises should breast cancer survivors stray from? 

Some doctors and women are worried that strength training –  lifting weights in particular – can trigger the onset of lymphedema.

Other possibly risky exercises for breast cancer survivors include:

  • Swimming laps using strokes with arm movements. Swimming laps with the arms resting on a kickboard or other floating device may be better for some women.
  • Using resistance bands. When pulling on a resistance band, you don’t know how much resistance is being generated; it may be too strenuous for your arm.
  • Body weight exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups. It’s difficult to know how much weight you are moving; the movements may put too much stress on the shoulders and arms.
  • Some yoga poses such as downward dog and inversions. These poses may put too much weight on the arms.
  • P90X. Some of the exercises in this program may cause too much stress on the arms and shoulders if done as recommended. Many women modify the movements to make them less stressful on the arms.
  • Elliptical/cross-training machines, tennis, and cross-country skiing. If you’re starting a new exercise program after breast cancer surgery, you may want to avoid working the arm on the side where you had surgery by doing additional exercise.


Here are the steps to take to make sure you exercise safely:

  • Get the OK from your primary care physician and surgeon.
  • Take any precautions that are necessary.
  • Do your warm-ups.
  • Make slow and steady progress. Expect to improve gradually.
  • Focus on form.
  • Stop if you feel pain.
  • Rest as needed.
  • Tell your instructor you’re a survivor.
Based on the article: and

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