9 Tips For Exercising After Breast Cancer

Exercising After Breast Cancer

As a breast cancer survivor of 6 years and a fitness professional, many survivors have asked to work with me as my clients. They want someone who understands exactly what they went through, and perhaps more importantly, how to give them exercises and workouts that are safe and not contraindicated.

Can you exercise after breast cancer? Absolutely.

But with any kind of post surgery plan, there are things you need to be aware of. Here's a list of things that could be helpful for you to be mindful of if you are going through you breast cancer journey.

 

Tip 1 : Go Slow

If you were in a workout routine or programme prior to surgery and treatment, please be kind to yourself and take it slow. Your body will go through a lot of trauma - regardless whether you had surgery or chemotherapy. Let the surgery heal, and know that the gym will be there waiting for you when you're ready. No one is judging you. I went back to lifting weights too quickly feeling that I had something to prove as a fitness professional (Fitpro). I know I took it too far when I did my bench press, but I was so determined to "not let cancer beat me!". I know better now, and wish I had allowed my body to heal, and to allow compassion and kindness for myself to be my main focus.

Tip  2 : Meditation

While not an actual physical form of exercise, meditating is mental exercise. It can help calm your anxiety and scary thoughts that creep up. Using apps like Calm and Headspace can slow down your sympathetic nervous system which is where adrenaline and cortisol kick in. When this is allowed to happen, your parasympathetic nervous system aka Rest and Digest system - can start to do it's work. Being in a high Fight or Flight mode isn't good for anyone, especially when you've gone through mental and physical trauma from the diagnosis and treatment. 

Tip 3 : Look for a fitpro who is certified

It can be scary for a fitpro to take on a breast cancer client. Especially if they don't know a thing about it. For you to feel safe in their hands, the bare minimum you'll need to see is that they have done some continuing education such as from the Pink Ribbon Programme. They'll need to understand the type of surgery you had and how you'd be feeling so that they can help you feel better towards your path of recovery. If your trainer isn't comfortable taking you on as a client, then do a search for qualified professionals in your area. 

Tip 4 : Lymphatics

One of the scariest outcomes for a survivor is to get lymphadema. This can happen if you've had a full lymph node clearance in your armpits, or just had a couple of nodes removed. No one can be certain who will get it. It could just be random luck, or genetics. But that's why Take It Slow is so important! Most of my clients did not have this, though one client did. She had to wear her sleeve all the time. She swam every single day and that helped her as this type of movement stimulated lymph flow.

Tip 5 : Swimming

Being in the water can be very therapeutic after surgery. You may also be feeling hot flushes from your treatment, so being in water can be a relief. Moving in water stimulates gentle massage which helps lymph move in your body. One thing I tried was Deep Water Running. I was fortunate that I had access to this unique class but you could also buy your own Aqua Jogger buoyancy belt like this one and start running in the pool yourself. It's an upright movement, and can be tricky to get right at first. But with your legs will "running" and your arms pumping by your sides, this is all great stuff for lymph. 

Tip 6 : Posture

It's very typical for a woman to have poor posture after surgery and treatment. Your chest muscles and skin have been cut through, and could feel very tight at first which can cause your shoulders to round forward. If you don't start to do gentle stretching, scar tissue massage and strengthening your back and core muscles, this could become a habit that can be hard to break. Which can also cause other issues such as feeling tight and stiff in other parts of your body. Working with a pilates instructor can help with the stretching and strengthening. But as for scar tissue, look for a therapist who can teach you how to massage your scars yourself as this should become a daily job.

Tip 7 : Reconstruction

Many women choose to have reconstruction after a mastectomy, and while science and innovation are coming up with new ways, the most common types are using silicone implants or your muscles. With implants you don't normally have to use muscles, but this will depend also on the size of the breast you're trying to create. The most common type of muscular reconstruction are the Lat Flaps (using the latissumus dorsi muscle in your back) or using your abdominal muscles and vascular system (DIEP and Tram Flap). If you need to have a larger breast then the surgeon may also add an implant. Using muscles for reconstruction can really create imbalances in your body though. Do make sure to tell your trainer what type of reconstruction you have had. It could also be very uncomfortable to lie on your front. This is normally when trainers feel very nervous, because they just don't understand the implications (hence tip #3 to find the right fitpro). For instance, "engaging your lats" won't be felt in your back like it should but you'll feel it in your breast instead because the muscle has been moved there. Reconstruction does NOT mean you can't exercise - just take it slow, and find the right person who is confident to take you as a client. 

Tip 8 : Weight Gain

Many people assume that chemotherapy means you're throwing your guts up, which could make you become very thin. The opposite is very common though - weight gain. Because a woman's hormones (namely estrogen and progesterone) are totally out of whack and this may have a huge effect on weight gain. "Early menopause" is common. For this, you will have to watch what you eat, especially of course from processed foods which are high in calories and fat and sugars. It may be an "old fashioned" way of thinking, but eat lots of fresh foods and really watch the portions. You will be amazed at just how many calories there are in food, and we tend to always underestimate calories eaten. At our studio we can help with nutrition coaching so that you end up with better eating habits that will help you lose fat and weight. 

Tip 9 : Walking

There are loads of benefits to walking. It can help with anxiety and stress. It will burn calories. And movement is good for lymph flow. You may find that long walks in the heat could cause fluid to accumulate in your fingers so they end up looking like sausages. You shouldn't be alarmed by this, if the fingers return to normal after a while. If they are still swollen then do go back to your doctor. Shorter walks in the cooler parts of the day could be a wiser choice. And if they do get swollen (mine do) then just lift your arms up to the air, and wiggle and wave them like you "just don't care!".

Conclusion

Exercise is great for breast cancer recovery. Tip #1 of going slow is perhaps the most important thing to take heed of. You will have plenty of time to get stronger and fitter again. Allow yourself time to heal and find the right partner (fitpro) who can help you along this journey. And if your fitpro isn't comfortable doing this, let them read this blog and they can reach out to me with questions. Because I'm always there to help my survivor sisters.

 

How we can help

We help women through every journey of their lives by helping them get happier and confident in their bodies by combining weight training, pilates and nutriton. Request for more information on this webpage. 

 



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