Exercise – an important piece of the breast cancer puzzle - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Exercise – an important piece of the breast cancer puzzle

Exercise can often be the last thing on your mind when you’re going through breast cancer. But there’s growing evidence of the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise both during and post treatment.

Chemotherapy and weight gain

Chemotherapy can often result in a weight gain of 3-8 kg. For some, it can also bring on premature menopause. This results in a slowing of metabolism, making it harder to keep the weight off. Many breast cancer patients also take medications that lower the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in their body, causing an increase in body fat.

Many women also lose fitness and cardiovascular function after going through chemo and radiation, while others report feeling anxious and fatigued during this time. After all, your body is going through a lot.

Why is exercise important

An increasing number of studies show that physical activity can help reduce breast cancer recurrence or death among survivors.

Research published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that regular physical activity after a breast cancer-diagnosis can result in a 40% reduction in the risk of death from breast cancer. Exercise is safe during and after cancer treatment. In fact, not only will it improve how you feel, but also impact how your body functions.

Many women find that consistent exercise helps improve cancer-related fatigue, optimises the immune system and improves their quality of sleep. For those at risk of lymphedema, exercise can also help fluid move through the lymphatic system and reduce swelling. Importantly, it also helps prevent other serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, that pose a greater risk for breast cancer survivors.

What kind of exercise

We recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This figure may seem daunting, but remember, even a little activity is better than none.

You don’t have to suddenly join the gym or start going on long walks. Small amounts of activity done on most days of the week are a great start.When it comes to choosing an activity, try to do something that increases your endurance, improves your strength or engages your range of movement. Regular walks, yoga or weight-training is great, but you can even start with something as simple as playing with the kids or doing housework to get that heart rate pumping.

Before you start, it’s best to talk to your healthcare professional and decide what exercise routine is right for you. Start slow, build up gradually and enjoy it. Often, the best way to stick with it is to also encourage a friend or family member to join you. This makes the initial sessions a bit easier, plus you have a set time in your schedule to catch up every week!