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Fitness and Exercise

Updated September 27, 2010

No matter what your diagnosis, it is challenging to get in enough physical activity. Sometimes you feel too tired or too busy to take time out for yourself. But exercise is a great way to cope with physical side effects of treatment and maintain overall health. It also may improve your mood by releasing biological "feel-good" chemicals called endorphins and boosting your self-confidence.

The U.S. government recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Exercise during treatment if you can, but don’t force yourself to do more than you can handle. A large study called The Nurses’ Health Study suggested that physical activity of at least three to five hours of walking or equivalent exercise per week may reduce the risk of death after a breast cancer diagnosis.

Try to make exercise a priority in your daily routine. Think of it as a way to take care of yourself. Get motivated by exercising with friends.

Exercise and Fatigue

Regular, low-intensity exercise prevents and improves fatigue caused by treatment. Exercise also helps you sleep more soundly.

Start with a short walk each day, and aim for 20 minutes daily. Walk as briskly as you can. By night, this small amount of exercise will help you to fall into a deep sleep and stay asleep. Finish walking two hours before bedtime so it doesn’t prevent you from falling asleep.

Yoga, Tai Chi and Reiki are good exercises to stretch your body, especially if you aren’t quite ready for other exercise. They also help you relax your mind and body.

Exercise and Bone Health

The movement and muscle strength you gain from exercise is vital to maintaining bone health or repairing weakened bones. When you use your muscles regularly, your body will signal the bones that are attached to those muscles to become stronger.

Exercise also may lessen chronic pain, improve posture and help you maintain strength to get through your daily activities. Any exercise helps reduce falling, the major cause of fracture, because physical activity increases your strength and balance. You will need to engage in weight-bearing exercise to build bone strength.

Many weight-bearing exercises involve standing, walking or doing other exercises on your feet to allow the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine to support your body weight. Supporting your body with your arms or lifting weights strengthens the bones in your arms, shoulders and upper spine. Weight-bearing exercises include walking, dancing, yoga and weight-lifting.

Exercising Safely

If you are in treatment or you have or are at risk for developing lymphedema, bone health problems, weakness or other conditions, the key to exercising safely is to work with your doctor or physical therapist. Physical therapists can help you figure out a safe exercise routine that fits your needs, lifestyle and ability.

When exercising on your own during treatment, follow these rules of thumb:

  • Start with low-intensity exercise for up to 20 minutes, such as slow walking on flat ground or riding a stationary bike.
  • Include a five minute warm-up and cool-down. Stretch and start your workout slowly.
  • Stop exercising if you feel short of breath, chest pain or discomfort.

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