The positive outcomes of exercising during breast cancer treatment
Evidence has shown that the effects of exercise on overall health and wellbeing are positive¹⁻⁴. These benefits are also an important component of staying healthy during, and after breast cancer treatment.
For women undergoing breast cancer treatment, exercise may:
- Support the body’s recovery
- Keep spirits up
- Improve quality–of–life
- Boost the immune system
- Manage treatment side effects, such as fatigue, pain, and decreased bone density
- Improve sleep, body weight, and muscle strength
- Help prevent other health conditions, such as heart disease
Most importantly, studies have proven that engaging in moderate exercise (such as walking for approx. 30 minutes a day) at least five times per week can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence (5-6).
What do I need to consider when starting an exercise programme during breast cancer treatment?
You can start exercising any time during or after your breast cancer treatment. Always check in with your treatment team to ensure you are undertaking exercise that is best for you and your condition. They can provide you with resources and, if needed, a referral to an exercise physiologist for more specific advice.
Start your exercise programme slowly. Build your strength and stamina gently, based on your ability. Don’t overexert yourself, and always listen to feedback from your body.
Types of exercise you may like to try
It is recommended that you plan your personal exercise programme with a professional, and a few types of exercise for you to consider are:
- Walking or jogging
- Gym classes with an instructor
Hints on how to maintain regular exercise during breast cancer treatment
- Start gradually and slowly build up in frequency and intensity
- Set short- and long-term goals and reward yourself when you achieve them
- Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy or something new that you have wanted to try but never had the chance to
- Buddy up with a friend to make exercising fun and inspiring
- Alternate the type of exercise you do to increase your motivation and interest
- Schedule exercise into your daily routine
- Keep track of the exercise you do in a diary or app such as Strava or MyFitnessPal Workout apps
- Listen to music or podcasts when exercising to make it more energising
How can I get the most out of exercise?
- Progress slowly
- Exercise in a safe environment
- Listen to your body – it is okay to have a day off or take a break from exercise if you are not feeling well
- Stay hydrated
- Eat a nutritious diet
- See your treatment team regularly
Can exercise help manage lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a possible side effect of breast cancer treatment. It may cause swelling and discomfort in the arm, hand, breast or torso following treatment, due to a blockage in the lymphatic system. Gentle exercise can have a beneficial effect in managing and preventing the symptoms of lymphoedema.
Muscle movement increases lymph flow and reduces the accumulation of fluid. As such, stretching the upper body and arms in the first few months after treatment can help with stiffness and discomfort. Check in with your treatment team for any guidance that you may require.
- Beyond Blue – Exerciseyour way to wellbeing
- Heart.org – Why is physical activity so important for health and wellbeing?
- Mayo Clinic – Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
- Breastcancer.org – Exercise Before and After Breast Cancer Diagnosis Improves Survival, Reduces Recurrence Risk
- Cancer.net– Exercise During Cancer Treatment