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Breast Cancer: Understanding the Power of Exercise

Breast Cancer: Understanding the Power of Exercise

James Re

Regular exercise is an important part of being healthy. Research shows that exercise is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer as well as decreasing the risk of recurrence.

Exercise can help diminish fatigue, increase energy, maintain body weight, ease treatment side effects, build strength and endurance, and improve your overall quality of life. Physical activity makes a big difference to those suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment, which often leaves patients with compromised immune systems, fatigue, nausea and pain. It can help restore physical function lost to inactivity or medical treatments.

Research demonstrates a strong link between an active lifestyle and a brighter future for breast cancer survivors. The positive impacts of exercise include the reduction of inflammation in your body which changes your body chemistry and creates a less hospitable environment for cancer to grow. It also does wonders for your immune system helping to get rid of suspicious cells.

Exercise speeds up your body’s glucose-to-muscle transport system, meaning frequent exercisers have lower glucose and insulin levels in their bloodstreams. This reduces both breast cancer and diabetes risks.

Other studies found that exercise helps the body break down estrogen in a cancer-preventing way. Women with high levels of estrogen in their body have an increased risk for breast cancer.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2010 reviewed available research and concluded that exercise is safe during and after all breast cancer treatments. It improves physical functioning, quality of life, and cancer-related fatigue.

A combination of aerobic, strength/resistance and flexibility should be part of your exercise program.  Aerobic Exercise includes things such as brisk walking, running, biking and swimming. This mode of exercise can increase energy, improve mood control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. It is also a key component to managing your weight and reducing the risk of developing heart disease.  Resistance training includes activities such as lifting weights, squats, push-ups, and activities that involve stepping and jumping. It works to increase the lean tissue in your body, increase the health of your bones, and strengthen your muscles after treatment

Flexibility Training such as stretching and yoga serve to relax your body and improve your mood. If you have had breast cancer surgery, shoulder and arm exercises can help you regain the movement and function you had prior to surgery. Stiffness and a loss of range of motion can result if you don’t commit to a stretching routine soon after surgery.

Before you begin any exercise program, talk with your doctor and understand recommendations, limitations and precautions. The best way to gain all the benefits from exercise is to work with a fitness professional that will create you a personalized plan. 

Even if you were active before your diagnosis, you may need to start very slowly. Be patient, and gradually increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of your exercise, allowing for adequate rest in between sessions.

There are many ways to add physical activity to your day. You don’t need to get it all done at one time:
• Take a 10-minute walk or exercise during a lunch break
• Do some exercises while watching TV
• Be more active with your children
• Use the stairs instead of elevator
• Schedule time for exercise

If you are currently dealing with or being treated for a breast cancer diagnosis, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing. But as you can see, the reasons to get moving are irrefutable.

Many breast cancer survivors say that getting and staying active has played a big role in resuming a normal life. Use exercise as a tool to take charge of your health and manage the impact of this disease.

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