Don’t Take Breast Cancer Lying Down

Don't Take Breast Cancer Lying Down

How Exercise Blocks the Disease

Exercise is a primary means of preventing breast cancer and improving recovery from breast cancer. Exercise has long been regarded as a means of preventing breast cancer by eliminating excess body fat. Yet, exercise is a weapon against breast cancer beyond its role in weight control. Whether you exercise or not is as important as whether you smoke or eat certain foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Why do physically active people have a lower risk of developing breast cancer? Engaging in regular physical activity helps to regulate and rejuvenate several of the body’s regulatory systems, just as being overweight disrupts and destroys the body’s environment. Exercise influences the production of many hormones and growth factors, such as estrogen, insulin, insulin-like growth factor, which have an impact on breast-cancer risk. In overweight individuals, the excess fat cells continually produce high amounts of these cancer-related hormones and growth stimulators. For example, overweight people have high levels of estrogen and insulin-like growth factor, which stimulate more breast cancer cells to reproduce.

Physical activity helps to eliminate fat deposits in the body, making it harder for toxic waste products, such as dietary carcinogens, to be stored long term in the body.

Exercise Prescription for Breast Cancer Prevention

Try to accumulate 30 to 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity at least five days a week. Moderate to vigorous means any activity that elevates your heart rate 50% to 70% of its maximum, or causes you to sweat. For walking, think of moderate-intensity as walking as if you were late for an appointment.

Exercise for Breast Cancer Patients

As a breast cancer patient, you may feel overwhelmed with fatigue and nausea and unable to exercise. People often assume that the best treatment for fatigue is to relax, but too much rest actually worsens fatigue. You may be too exhausted to keep moving for long periods, but enjoy success with exercise by starting slowly and doing what you can. Even a light walking program can boost energy level, soothe nausea, improve self-esteem, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, relieve stress and improve overall quality of life. Daily exercise is best, especially for deconditioned patients who may only be able to do light-intensity activities for short periods of time.

Help your body fight breast cancer from within by building a stronger immune system and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise strengthens the immune system by enhancing the body’s natural antioxidant defense system and other immune defenses, in addition to increasing natural killer-cell activity. Studies show that immune-system function is better in breast cancer patients who exercise regularly compared with those who do not exercise. Weight is a strong predictor of breast cancer recurrence and survival: Overweight women are more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.

Exercise also can reduce the risk of lymphedema (arm swelling after breast surgery), heart disease, and osteoporosis — all potential side effects of breast cancer treatment. You may need to modify your exercise routine if you have fatigue during treatment, physical impairments from surgery and other treatments, or breast cancer that has spread to the bones.

Exercise is an important weapon for patients in their battle against breast cancer because it has a profoundly positive effect on physical, functional, and emotional well-being. Spend time with people you care about while enjoying some exercise. Fly a kite, feed some ducks, walk along the beach or walk the dog with famialy and friends. Don’t forget to include exercise in your daily activities. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away or riding a bicycle instead of driving when doing certain errands. Choose activities that help you develop new skills and take place in an environment that calms and nourishes your mind and spirit. Be sure to check with your physician about when to begin your exercise program and how much physical activity is right for you. Ask for guidance in developing an individualized exercise program.

Now I will talk about specific exercises for breast cancer patients.

Have you ever restored an old piece of furniture or renovated a room in your home? The excitement of seeing the finished product drives you to tolerate the discomforts of dust and clutter, the inconvenience of not being able to use the room or furniture, and the frustrations and challenges of planning the project. If you have breast cancer, your body may be ravaged from the chemotherapy or the scalpel. While cancer cells have been destroyed, healthy cells have also been injured. Your body needs restoration and cleansing from all the cellular debris that has accumulated in your body. How can you help speed your recovery? Exercise. Exercise is a wonderful complementary therapy that everyone can engage in at some level and experience great benefits.

The typical exercise program for breast cancer patients should include four areas: aerobic exercise training, strength training, stretching, and mind-body training. Listed below are suggested activities for each area. Your exercise prescription will be based on your personal situation — such as how long ago you had surgery, your present cycle of chemotherapy, your level of pain, and how fit you were prior to your diagnosis.


Cycling is great because it minimizes the effects of an unsteady gait, limitations in arm movement related to the surgery and lymphedema (swelling of the arm after surgical removal of lymph nodes). Walking is another excellent choice because it is safe and tolerable for most people. Women who have breast cancer that has spread to the bones are at high risk for fractures and should avoid high-impact exercises and contact sports.

Strength training

Dumbbells, band exercises or machines can be used for strength training. Work major muscle groups for two or three sets that include 10 to 12 repetitions for each muscle group. Avoid weight lifting after breast cancer surgery until you have detailed instructions from your surgeon and oncologist.


Stretching is especially good for areas affected by surgery such as the shoulder and arm. You can begin simple stretches while lying in bed during the first few days after surgery. Try to do two stretching sessions each day repeating each stretch 10 to 12 times.

While doing each exercise, you should feel a gentle stretch, but stop if you feel a sharp pain or excessive pulling of the muscles. Do each stretch as fully as you can. You’ll find the exercises progressively easier to do each day. Do exercises with both arms. This will increase your sense of balance, and give you an idea of the flexibility and strength that you are trying to gain in the affected arm.

Shoulder/neck rolls

Position: Sit or stand.
Motion: Shrug shoulders up, squeeze back down and forward in a circular motion. Repeat in reverse direction. Let your head roll forward with chin toward chest. Then let head tilt to one shoulder, the other shoulder and then toward the back.

Wall walk

Position: Sit or stand with one side of body facing a wall.
Motion: Using arm nearest wall, slowly walk your fingers up the wall as far as you can reach. Each day stand a little closer to the wall.

Arm circles

Position: Sit or stand or sit with arms stretched out to sides at shoulder height and parallel to floor. Do not lock elbows.
Motion: Make little circles with your arms while slowly raising them to your ears. Reverse the direction of the circles and slowly lower your arms to your thighs.

Rope pulling

Position: Sit or stand.
Motion: Bend arms at chest height with palms facing floor. Imagine you are climbing a rope and raise one arm as high as you can toward the ceiling. Lower arm and repeat with other arm.

Clapping hands

Position: Sit or stand.
Motion: Raise both arms above your head palms up. Try to clap your hands overhead. Slowly lower arms to shoulder height. Take four counts to reach over your head and four counts to lower to shoulder position.

Mind-body training

Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises. Use soft music to help focus relaxation and visualization. Visualize healthy breast cells displacing the bad cancer cells and rejuvenated blood cells flowing throughout your body like a river with many branches. Prayer and meditation are also healing mental exercises that ignite your immune system.

Exercise Precautions

Avoid overstressing an arm prone to lymphedema. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you notice excessive drainage, throbbing, or swelling at the surgical site or severe pain radiating down your arm.

Scroll to Top