5 Tips for Exercising After Breast Cancer

When Lesley, a renowned artist who lives near my studio, walked into Urbanfitt over nine years ago in search of post-breast cancer treatment personal training, I really questioned if I had the qualifications and experience to help her.  Even just nine years ago, fitness and cancer didn’t seem to belong together.  I was afraid that somehow I might injure Lesley and that she belonged in a physiotherapy setting.  Instead of turning her away, I decided to grow into being the expert she needed.

Lesley became my teacher in countless ways and I was able to serve many other women, before, during and after treatment.  Several years ago, before the release of official exercise guidelines during cancer treatment, a colleague and I presented our observational research and exercise strategies to a group of oncologists at Sunnybrook Hospital.  I’m elated to see that women are now encouraged to move up to 150 minutes per week during all stages of treatment, having witnessed the emotional and physical benefits of any type of regular exercise.

What type of exercise should you engage in after treatment?   Simply put, anything you will repeat over and over again, that you look forward to and will light you up your life force, and help you to feel confident and strong in your body again.

Here are my top 5 fitness priorities post treatment:

1. Make exercise about gently improving stamina, energy levels, and strength and the rest of your fitness goals will follow. Capitalize on the window of opportunity after a life altering illness to shift your health paradigm.  Like an alchemist, there’s the potential to take your pain and suffering and transform it into a fierce focus of self-care and self-love.

2. Focus on improving shoulder and chest mobility to address tightness and fascial adhesions due to scarring. Your posture and alignment will thank you.  Walking your hands up a wall, softly opening your chest between a door frame and other mobility exercises your doctors suggest are a must.  Also, consider myofascial release techniques for the upper body and speak to your doctor about treatment options for fascial scarring.  A physiotherapist trained in post-surgical/post-masectomy myofascial release in the best option. Watch this video to learn some techniques.

3. Engage in core strength exercises at least a couple times a week to build your strength from the inside out. Here are some core exercises to get you started.

4. Due to the potential side effects of chemotherapy that might have impacted your proprioception (AKA coordination), choose activities that foster mindful movement and improve balance. Yoga, Pilates, ELDOA or strength training that is about tuning into sensory experiences will help us learn to listen to our bodies moment by moment.  In terms of balance activities, safety comes first but play around with single leg balance activities, playing on a Rebounder (also excellent for lymph drainage), or using balance boards or BOSUs.

5. Find a gym, class or personal training environment that combines health and community. A huge part of healing is feeling connected with other people and making sure you don’t feel isolated.

Things to be mindful of when embarking on post treatment exercise plan:

  • Make sure your doctor gives you the thumbs up and know your specific limitations and how long they will last.
  • Start slowly and be patient with yourself. Focus on moving forward instead of getting back to what you used to do before treatment.
  • Get to know early indications of complications due to your specific treatment(s) and seek treatment ASAP.
  • Exercise in a way that builds your energy levels instead of feeling depleted post workout or class. If what you’re doing doesn’t increase your energy levels then reassess your plan and adjust as you go.

– Jane Clapp, Holistic Personal Trainer & Founder of Urbanfitt

For more tips on exercising after breast cancer, click here.

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