Breast Cancer & Exercise Benefits

Original post: Jun 11, 2015 /
by Terrilyn Stephens, MPH, Cancer Exercise Specialist

We often think of cancer as a disease that strikes for no apparent reason. However, many causes have been identified such as heredity, which accounts for about 10% of all cancer cases. Other scientific studies indicate that there are three main categories of factors that contribute to developing cancer: chemicals (e.g. diet, inhalation, smoking…), radiation (e.g. x-rays, UV rays…), and viruses or bacteria (HPV, hepatitis B…).

Most people know that obesity raises the risk of type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease; but along with being overweight, it causes 15% to 20% of all cancer related deaths each year. 

Now you may ask…how can I prevent cancer or is it safe to exercise during treatment or post surgery? The answer is YES.  Several studies have indicated that the more exercise we get, the lower our risk of premature death from cancer.

Not only does engaging in regular exercise help prevent cancer, but it also plays in invaluable role in helping individuals gain strength physically and mentally during treatment, as well as helping one return to the strength and fitness level that was maintained prior to surgery.  

You can help yourself maintain a healthy weight by being sure to get at least at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. If you find that you’re short on time, wear a pedometer throughout the day and aim for at least 10,000 steps. 

During treatment or post surgery, one may experience muscle imbalances, postural deviations, unstable balance, decreased range of motion, and lymphedema.

Working with a cancer exercise specialist or fitness professional can help:

  • reduce pain and fatigue
  • prevent, identify, and manage lymphedema
  • increase range of motion and correct postural deviations following surgery
  • increase treatment tolerance
  • prevent and/or manage osteoporosis, diabetes, and damage to the heart and lungs following treatment

*Referenced from Cancer Exercise Specialist Handbook 2011