Getting regular exercise during and following your breast cancer treatment can have many benefits. It can improve your physical and emotional wellbeing and improve quality of life.
Exercise can help manage treatment and cancer related side effects such as fatigue, lymphoedema, pain and lowered bone density. It can also improve mood, sleep, body weight, muscle strength, confidence, depression and anxiety.
There is evidence that exercise can also reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence).
I believe that exercise is a great preventive drug, and everybody needs to take that medicine every day. Exercise strengthens the entire body from your bones, muscles to your mind. The most important thing you can do for your health is lead an active life.
Before you start any exercise, discuss it with your GP or a member of your treating team as there may be certain types of activities you need to avoid because of your treatments or their side effects, and other health issues you may have. Your GP may recommend you see an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) or physiotherapist.
Generally, people can start exercising during or after treatment. In general, the earlier the better however you may need to make some modifications and take precautions.
You might need to consider issues like compromised immunity or lymphoedema when talking to your health professional about an exercise program.
The frequency and intensity of the exercises should be based on your current health and fitness.
Research suggest that some exercise is better than none, and more is generally better than less.
The Australian Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines are produced by the Department of Health and Aged care and are the same for people with or without breast cancer.
These guidelines may be something to work towards rather than your starting point.
If you currently do no physical activity, start slowly and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
Choose an activity you enjoy and set some realistic goals for yourself. This will help you to stay motivated. It can also help to alternate the types of exercise you do to keep it interesting. Try to be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.
Activities you might like to try:
Incidental exercise refers to the exercise you get from regular daily activities such as housework or gardening. It can contribute to your weekly exercise total if it is done at moderate intensity. Incidental exercises that you can include in your daily routine:
Seek professional advice from an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) or a physiotherapist, who are trained to design individual exercise programs. AEPs are accredited health professionals who specialise in exercise programs to prevent and manage chronic diseases and injuries, including conditions such as breast cancer. You can seek an AEP through a private clinic or your hospital to help with recovery after treatment. Search for an accredited exercise physiologist in your area.
Physiotherapists use advanced techniques and evidence-based care to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of health conditions and movement disorders. Physiotherapy helps repair damage, reduce stiffness and pain, and increase mobility. They can address a range of needs, including treating, managing or preventing fatigue, pain, muscle and joint stiffness, and deconditioning. Find a physiotherapist in your area.
Lymphoedema, or swelling of the arm, hand or breast, sometimes develops in people after surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes under the arm and surrounding area, as part of their treatment for breast cancer. Surgery and radiation can interrupt or damage some of the nodes and vessels that lymph moves through, resulting in a backup of fluid in the tissues.
Research has shown that regular exercise can help reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema. It can also help you to manage lymphoedema symptoms if you already have it.
You can find more information about how to reduce your risk of lymphoedema on our lymphoedema page.
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