By Hannah Ziegler
If you’re currently going through breast cancer treatment or in active recovery, you probably want to take it easy — and rightfully so. No matter what your treatment is, chances are it’s taking a toll on your mind and body, making exercise a non-priority. But if you’re like the many women who have questions around post-treatment exercise (Is swimming safe? Can I go do yoga? How much exercise is too much?) you’ve come to the right place.
We asked Lindsay Davey, a Toronto-based Physiotherapist who specializes in the treatment of breast cancer patients, for her advice on post-treatment exercises to try.
If you are recovering from a lumpectomy or mastectomy, one of the best things you can do for your body is taking the time to rest and heal. However, once you are feeling up to it, try doing some sit-to-stand exercises like marching on the spot and walking at a moderate pace, says Davey. These are great ways to maintain good circulation and leg strength and decrease deconditioning in the post-op phase.
While scars are healing and soreness crops up, it’s important to err on the side of caution. Parameters are often given to limit the use of the arm in the early post-operative days for a reason. “Try not to lift anything more than 10 lbs, or reach out with the arm fully extended and no overhead movements above 90 degrees, etc.”
It’s no secret that chemo is physically demanding, with side-effects like nausea, body aches, pain and fatigue. Davey points to studies that revealed that light to moderate exercise three to five times per week is safe and beneficial for patients going through chemo. “Benefits include decreased fatigue, improved quality of life scores, increased strength and activity tolerance, improved cardiovascular fitness, improved sleep patterns, and body weight normalization,” says Davey. She recommends 20-30 minutes of exercise at a time, but of course it depends on your individual situation. A progressive walking program is highly beneficial as well.
Radiation treatment often affects the chest and surrounding area and can result in tissue changes and Treatment-Related Fatigue (TRF). Davey recommends maintaining a range of motion of the shoulder, trunk, and neck, as best as possible, without over-stretching to the point of pain. At about 2-3 weeks after the final radiation dose, manual therapy can begin to help restore normal tissue flexibility and once normal range of motion is restored, exercises can incorporate resistance work. “Yoga, pilates, and cross-training type workouts area all great choices, again, as long as basic strength levels have returned to the arm.” She says swimming is also a great option as long as the skin has no open wounds.
“I always tell my patients to trust their bodies when deciding how much to exercise during cancer treatment – to expect good days and bad days, and to spend their energy tokens accordingly – work, family, and life commitments mean that some days will allow for exercising and other days won’t.”