Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers that usually occur in women over the age of 50 (1). Some of the reasons are poor nutrition and physical inactivity, while it looks like women with a first – degree relative, those who started their period quite young before the age of 12, those who got pregnant after the age of 35 and those who reached the menopause at the age of 55, have more possibilities of developing this type of cancer (1). October is breast cancer awareness month and what is better than finding out if this specific patient group can exercise and what activities they are allowed to do.
There are lots of people who feel down and very fatigued due to the chemotherapy. Research (2, 3) shows that physical activity can offer a variety of benefits such as improving cardiovascular capacity and life quality while it may decrease fatigue in both breast cancer patients and survivors. Based on patients’ experience (3) staying active during therapy will help the patient to be stronger, have better psychology and better mind clarity. It’s never too late to start, although the earlier seems to be better (3). It’s very important to always check with your doctor or a health professional before you start an exercise regime. According to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (3), women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer can do at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity exercise per week. If you haven’t exercised before and you undergo chemo, it’s very important to start by doing small sessions of exercise e.g. 15 min of moderate intensity exercise in the morning and 15 min in the evening. You can also separate it by doing 3 x 10 min 5 x per week.
The term moderate intensity refers to when your heart starts beating a bit quicker and your breath is a bit harder. That doesn’t mean you have completely stayed out of breath or that your heart beats ‘’super’’ quickly. Moderate intensity differs for every person and it depends mainly on the age, the stage of the therapy (after the operation or chemo, patient – survivor) and the level of exercise the person has done in the past. You should work out on your own tempo and try to improve every day a bit. Usually moderate intensity is similar to when you walk a bit quicker than usually and you try to get to an appointment or somewhere you are late.
The 4 most common type of activities for a breast cancer patient are walking / jogging, swimming / aqua aerobic classes, Yoga / Pilates and cycling. Of course, other types of exercise a patient can do are dancing, lifting weights and aerobic classes at the gym. In every type of activity there are exercises that should be avoided, as you may increase the possibility of developing lymphedema (5). Make sure you ask advice from a certified instructor and always inform your teacher when you are new in a class. It’s also very important to start with a good warm – up and finish by cooling down properly. Always stop in case you feel pain and do not overdo it especially when you feel tired or like getting a cold.
You should also know that exercise in a regular basis is linked to a reduced risk of developing breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer (1, 2, 4). Maintaining a healthy body weight during your lifespan will also reduce the possibilities of developing this disease (1). As mentioned previously it’s best to check with your doctor or physician before you start any type of activity. Following the right directions, the right type of exercise and the right intensity will help your body to get stronger while recovering.
- Hark, L. and Deen, D. (2005). Nutrition for life. The definitive guide to eating well for good health. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley.
- McNeely, M. L., Campbell, K. L., Rowe, B. H., Klassen, T. P., Mackey, J. R. and Courneya, K. S. (2006). Effects of exercise on breast cancer patients and survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CMAJ, 175 (1), 34 – 41.
- Exercise and Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer Network Australia, (https://www.bcna.org.au/media/2129/bcna_exercise_and_breast_cancer_booklet_0.pdf).
- Wu Y, Zhang D, Kang S. Physical activity and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2013; 137(3):869-882. [PubMed Abstract]
- Exercise Safely. Breastcancer.org (http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/exercise/safe)