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Exercise and breast cancer

Fiona_BCNAFiona_BCNA Staff Posts: 82

There’s been quite a bit of discussion online the last few weeks regarding the benefits of exercise and whether what we are reading on Google is to be believed. We therefore thought it might be helpful to make a comment on this.

There is a growing body of evidence around the benefits of exercise for people diagnosed with breast cancer. Regular exercise before, during and after breast cancer has been shown to improve physical and emotional wellbeing and improve quality of life. Exercise can help manage treatment and cancer related side effects such as fatigue, pain, lymphoedema and lowered bone density. It can also improve mood, sleep, body weight, muscle strength, confidence, depression and anxiety. There is very strong evidence that specifically tailored targeted exercise can also reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence). The convincing body of research and evidence on the benefits of exercise for people with breast cancer has led to the development of exercise guidelines for people with cancer by major organisations internationally. These guidelines, which largely mirror guidelines for the general population, can be found in BCNA’s Exercise and breast cancer booklet.

For more information on exercise and breast cancer see:

Exercise and breast cancer booklet

The Beacon Issue 82 ‘Growing evidence shows the power of exercise’

Here are some relevant research articles:

The Impact of Exercise on Cancer Mortality, Recurrence, and Treatment-Related Adverse Effects

Does Strength-Promoting Exercise Confer Unique Health Benefits? A Pooled Analysis of Data on 11 Population Cohorts With All-Cause, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Mortality Endpoints

Physical Activity and Weight Loss Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer



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  • melclaritymelclarity Member Posts: 3,415
    edited April 2018
    Exercise is beneficial for anyone, no matter your health, ailment or illness, it's not specific it's general. I too have seen benefits prior to my diagnosis, I did strength training and cardio 3 times a week and walked 45mins 4 days a week. For myself in recovery, and moving forward having worked with an exercise physiologist for over a year. I have done so for my well being and feeling better only. I was fit and healthy, a good diet, slim and a good BMI before my 1st diagnosis and my 2nd diagnosis. :) 
  • ShellSurfingShellSurfing Northern Rivers NSWMember Posts: 16
    I am addicted to Stand Up Paddle boarding and I will be working with an exercise physiologist to get me back on my board as soon as possible. Whilst exercise does not prevent cancer, I fully believe that exercise increases your mental attitude to everything in your life and will be extremely useful for what will be going through from your diagnosis, surgery and treatment. The catalyst program in May 2016 (link below) is very interesting to watch for the correlation between exercise and health during treatment ( I have done lots of Google/ research on exercising during treatment)


    At the end of the day, whatever gets you through this time of your life is what you need to do

  • Michelle_RMichelle_R Gold Coast QldMember Posts: 894
    I agree @melclarity - exercise is beneficial for everyone.  Fiona lists the benefits, and I have enjoyed them all!  Like yourself, I was always active prior to diagnosis (perhaps it would have been worse if I hadn't been!), a healthy weight and a good BMI. Now 6 years post-diagnosis, I still exercise 5-6 days a week, mostly treadmill and hand weights. It keeps my mood up and my confidence strong and I can't imagine how low I would feel without it. :) xx
  • MiraMira I live in my computer .... Member Posts: 676
    edited April 2018
    I was eating healthy & working out daily prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer.  I truly believe if I hadn't been a healthy weight my lump wouldn't have been found so early (I felt it), and that I coped with treatment a lot better because I was fit and healthy when diagnosed.  My personal view is that waiting until after you have breast cancer (and some other illnesses/diseases) to start a healthy lifestyle is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
  • EastmumEastmum SydneyMember Posts: 489
    I was the total opposite to @Mira and @Michelle_R and others on this thread. I was not exercising before I was diagnosed, have a sedentary job, am overweight and not a healthy BMI. I am insulin resistant but not diabetic.
    I'm now two weeks post my DMX and doing great - will need chemo and radio along the track.
    I'd love some advice on how and when to start a new fitness regime? Should I wait until after I've finished treatment? or is it never to early to start? Should I consult a professional exercise physiologist? Not even sure where to start looking? Or just take myself out for some nice long walks? 
  • kmakmkmakm MelbourneMember Posts: 7,897
    edited April 2018
    @Eastmum It's never too early to start!

    Definitely begin with walking. First sure you've got good shoes, proper sneakers. Go to one of those places that film/measure your gait. Athlete's Foot do it. That way you can get the right support. It makes a big difference. There's actually a thread somewhere here about it!

    Start small, no bull in a china shop all or nothing stuff! How much time per day can you devote to it? Minimum 30 mins, and build up from there if you can spare the time.

    Download an exercise app onto your phone. I use Runkeeper, it tracks your pace and logs each walk so you can see your improvement.

    Are you good to exercise alone or better with a friend? Enlist support if it's the latter.

    Increasingly exercise intensity is identified as the key. Start slow and steady but as you get fitter, walk faster. Include some slopes in your walks if you live in a hilly area. I do and I know when my fitness is improving when I get to the top of those hills and am panting less!

    Variety is key so mix up your routes.

    Like most things in life, once the habit is formed, the activity is easier. If your schedule permits, try to exercise at the same time each day. You'll soon find that if you skip a day you'll get antsy.

    Exercise has been shown to help reduce side effects of chemo. I walked almost everyday. In the first week it was a short slow stagger, but climbed up for the rest of each cycle. And quite apart from anything else, it's brilliant for your mental health. If you do nothing else on those days, at least you did your walk.

    And when you're feeling better about your fitness and your doctors approve, you can ask about doing an oncology exercise programme. Or ask now and do both at the same time. Some of these programmes are water based if that floats your boat (he he, see what I did there?! #sorrynotsorry), while others are gym based. I'm starting mine in June.

    I've just lost 20kg, 5kgs before diagnosis and the rest since, through two operations and chemo. I've done it with walking and being sensible with my diet. I did give up alcohol, except for high days and holidays, and I see a dietician who advised a protein rich diet through chemo. You can get a care plan through your GP to help with that.

    Carpe diem and all that. Go for a walk today, right now! Best of luck. K xox
  • melclaritymelclarity Member Posts: 3,415
    edited April 2018
    @eastmum it's different for everyone, I exercised before and after treatment, however when I worked with my Exercise Physiologist she said for me particularly..again not everyone, but for me she said she would not have worked with me through Chemo as its a time depletion and healing on a body level. I was very ill through chemo and had to learn to walk again, exercise would not have been an option at that point. I have kicked butt 3 yrs on now to where I was...a long way from normal and concede I am forever physically changed and no amount of exercise will get me there. But I feel GREAT! if you want to do anything I would only recommend walking or working with an exercise physiologist and building up slowly...that will get you great long term success. x
  • iserbrowniserbrown Regional VictoriaMember Posts: 4,120

    from the BCNA website, this was in my pack from my Breast care nurse


    and this link to find something near where you live that is based around us


    I was fit and healthy prior to diagnosis but now that is a little different.  Being fit and healthy certainly helped to recover from surgery.  I start the ex-med program in May. 

    I heard a talk back session on radio listen from a specialist who said remember we were born with two legs that are meant for walking to get us around.  Walking is so beneficial and helps blow out the cobwebs and as @romla had said in her posts that walking has helped

    Take care
  • EastmumEastmum SydneyMember Posts: 489
    thanks @kmakm, @melclarity and @iserbrown - I'll definitely get started! 
  • SisterSister Adelaide Hills, SAMember Posts: 4,585
    @eastmum Repeating what everyone else has said.  Walking to an intensity where you are slightly out of breath but able to talk is what is generally recommended.  You should be able to do that and your post-surgery exercises  After that, I would suggest a specialised programme such as Encore, an exercise physiologist or specialist physio, or a oncology rehab programme once you've had the clearance from your medical team (eg you won't be able to swim until you've been cleared by the surgeon).  I am at the end of AC chemo and have been given very light resistance work to help with cording issues by a lymphoedema physio.  I have just signed up to an 8 week oncology rehab programme offered through the hospital where I am going for chemo and although I've yet to start, I have had a lot of measuring done to check my level of fitness before a personal exercise regime is done for me.  I think it is important to make sure that whoever is setting your exercises has a good understanding of breast cancer treatment and the side effects.  
  • EastmumEastmum SydneyMember Posts: 489
    thanks @Sister - great advice 
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