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18 Aug 2021

The benefits of exercising during breast cancer treatment

Evidence shows being physically active can help improve your overall health and wellbeing, and this is still true for people with cancer. The benefits of exercise are an important part of staying healthy during and after breast cancer treatment. If you’re undergoing breast cancer treatment, exercise can:

  • Support your body’s recovery
  • Keep your spirits up
  • Boost your immune system
  • Help 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 suggest that engaging in moderate exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, may reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence [1,2,3,4].

Even if you weren’t active before your diagnosis, taking part in an exercise programme tailored to your strengths and abilities can help you. And you don’t need a gym membership or lots of home equipment to get active either.

At GenesisCare, we offer supervised exercise medicine as an integral part of your cancer care with us. You can access a personalised exercise programme at most of our centres in the UK, either in person at our dedicated exercise clinics or virtually via an app. One of our qualified physiotherapists will work with you to prescribe a 12-week personalised plan focusing on your treatment side effects, your goals and the physiological outcome you can achieve.

Getting started

You can start exercising any time during or after your breast cancer treatment. Always check in with your treatment team to ensure you’re doing the exercise that’s best for you and your condition and it’s recommended that you plan your personal exercise programme with a professional. Our exercise medicine clinics are run by physiotherapists and personal trainers who are trained in exercise medicine for cancer patients – so you’re in safe hands. Once you’re referred to GenesisCare for your treatment, we’ll make an appointment for you to see one of our qualified physiotherapists.

With any exercise programme, you should start slowly. Build your strength and stamina gently, based on your ability. Don’t overexert yourself, and always listen to feedback from your body.

A few types of exercise for you to consider are:

  • Walking or jogging
  • Resistance exercises
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Swimming
  • Golf
  • Gym classes with an instructor

Maintaining regular exercise during breast cancer treatment

To help you keep up regular exercise throughout your treatment and beyond, we recommend:

  • 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’ve 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

To get the most out of your exercise, progress slowly and don’t push yourself too far. Listen to your body and have a day off or take a break from exercise if you’re not feeling well. You may not always feel like exercising or have the energy, and that’s ok. If you feel this way, try to remember exercising can help by improving fatigue and making you feel more positive [5].

Stay hydrated and eat a nutritious diet. You should also see your treatment team regularly so they can check in with your general health. Throughout your exercise medicine programme at GenesisCare, your physiotherapist will also pass on any relevant information to your consultant.

Can exercise help manage lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a possible side effect of breast cancer treatment. Lymphoedema is caused by a blockage in your lymphatic system and can cause swelling and discomfort in your arm, hand, breast or torso following breast cancer treatment. The lymphatic system is part of your body’s immune system, with a network of vessels that connects your lymph nodes together.

Gentle exercise can help manage and prevent the symptoms of lymphoedema [6]. Muscle movement increases lymph flow and reduces the accumulation of fluid. 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 or GenesisCare physiotherapist for any guidance that you may require.

Exercise medicine at GenesisCare

At GenesisCare, we incorporate integrative cancer care into your personalised treatment plan. We offer exercise medicine as part your cancer care because the evidence shows how much it can help people with cancer and we want to help you get the most from your treatment with us. This is included at no extra cost to you or your insurer.

We know that the thought of exercising when you’re dealing with treatment for cancer might all seem too much. Some days will be easier than others, but we’ll be there to support and encourage you.

Find out more about our exercise medicine clinics here or make an enquiry:

0808 156 9565

Email: 

References

1. Cannioto R, Hutson A, Dighe S, McCann W, McCann S, Zirpoli G et al. Physical Activity Before, During, and After Chemotherapy for High-Risk Breast Cancer: Relationships With Survival. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2020;113(1):54-63.

2. Schmid D, Leitzmann M. Association between physical activity and mortality among breast cancer and colorectal cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Oncology. 2014;25(7):1293-1311.

3. Lahart I, Metsios G, Nevill A, Carmichael A. Physical activity, risk of death and recurrence in breast cancer survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Acta Oncologica. 2015;54(5):635-654.

4. Gonçalves A, Florêncio G, de Atayde Silva M, Cobucci R, Giraldo P, Cote N. Effects of Physical Activity on Breast Cancer Prevention: A Systematic Review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2014;11(2):445-454.

5. Furmaniak AC, Menig M, Markes MH. Exercise for women receiving adjuvant therapy for breast cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;21;9(9):CD005001.

6. Hasenoehrl T, Palma S, Ramazanova D, Kölbl H, Dorner TE, Keilani M, Crevenna R. Resistance exercise and breast cancer-related lymphedema-a systematic review update and meta-analysis. Support Care Cancer. 2020;28(8):3593-3603.