Routine exercise is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can help people maintain healthy weights, reduce stress and lower their risk for various diseases.
After surviving breast cancer, many survivors wonder if it's safe to return to the exercise regimens they followed prior to being diagnosed. Breast cancer survivors can benefit from exercise, but it's important that they prioritize safety when working out. Survivors who have had breast cancer surgery may be at risk of lymphedema, a condition characterized by swelling of the soft tissues of the arm, hand, trunk, or breast. That swelling is sometimes accompanied by discomfort and numbness, and some people dealing with lymphedema also experience infection.
Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing up-to-date information about breast cancer, notes that some exercise may be especially risky for breast cancer survivors. These exercises include:
- swimming laps using strokes with arm movements
- activities that involve the usage of resistance bands
- pull-ups and push-ups
- certain yoga poses, including downward-facing dog and inversions, that put ample weight on the arms
- elliptical/cross-training machines
- cross-country skiing
While breast cancer survivors might want to avoid certain types of exercise, it's important to note that the American Cancer Society recommends exercise after breast cancer surgery. But exercise should be approached with safety in mind, and breast cancer survivors should heed the following tips to ensure their exercise regimens do not compromise their recovery.
- Discuss exercise with your physician and surgeon. Before making exercise a part of your post-recovery routine, speak with your physician and surgeon to determine if there any movements you should avoid. Your doctor and surgeon can tell you how you will be affected by medications you might be taking as part of your continued recovery.
- Take it slowly. If you were an exercise enthusiast prior to your diagnosis, you must recognize that returning to your pre-cancer regimen may not be possible, or that it's likely to take a while before you feel like your old self again. Take a gradual approach, allowing yourself to build strength and not expecting results to appear overnight.
- Emphasize form. Place a great emphasis on form when exercising after surviving breast cancer. Many breast cancer survivors undergo surgery as part of their treatments, but even those who did not should still prioritize proper form when exercising, even if it means lifting substantially less weight than you might have prior to your diagnosis.
- Don't persist through pain. If you feel any pain upon returning to exercising, stop immediately and speak with your physician and surgeon prior to exercising again.
- Rest between sessions. You likely won't be able to exercise on successive days anytime soon, but build off days into your routine so you can rest and recover.
Exercising after surviving breast cancer can promote recovery, but survivors must be extra careful as they work to get back on track.