Breast cancer is the most common cancer among US women. According to the American Cancer Society, there is a 1 in 8 chance for a woman in the United States to develop breast cancer. However, there are currently more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US. Exercise is known to have many benefits, including a lower risk for certain cancers. It can also be beneficial for cancer patients and survivors to incorporate regularly.

Benefits of Exercise

The most recent exercise recommendations for cancer patients and survivors were put together by a panel of experts from organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute. The experts saw that exercise can improve survival rates after diagnosis. They also noted that many quality of life factors during and after treatment are improved. Evidence shows that a combination of appropriate aerobic and strength-building exercises can help manage cancer-related fatigue, physical function, anxiety, and depression.  Overall, avoiding inactivity is greatly encouraged.


Everyone’s journey with cancer and treatment is different. An exercise routine should fit your personal needs and abilities anyway but even more so during this difficult journey. In the past, there has been some concern about exercise and lymphedema (swelling). However, the latest research has shown that proper and supervised strength training of major muscle groups does not make it worse. If you have recently had breast surgery, you’ll want to make sure you have the ‘ok’ from your doctor to begin exercise. There may be a period where you need to consider limiting or adapting certain upper body exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and swimming with arm-strokes. Always include a warm-up and cool-down as part of your session. Make sure you are focusing on proper form, starting slowly, and gradually increasing your exercise. Listening to your body is key because you’ll find that your energy levels can vary each day. Stop if you feel pain and take a rest day when you need it. This is not the time for pushing through a workout if you’re feeling too tired or under the weather. Taking these precautions can help you get the most out of your exercise routine.

Getting Started

First and foremost, it is necessary to be cleared by your doctor for exercise. You should have a conversation with your doctor about beginning an exercise program and discuss any special considerations you should take. Exercise prescription can vary with each individual and may need to be adapted based on treatment and/or surgical history. Next, consider working with a certified exercise professional who can help tailor your routine and adjust for any progress or setbacks along the way.  ACSM and Exercise is Medicine (EIM) have put together an extensive resource for clinicians and patients that includes a searchable exercise program directory. Cancer can come with a wide array of negative emotions, frustrations, and setbacks. Exercise is one way to positively fight back and improve quality of life along the way. If you know someone battling or surviving cancer, encourage them and be a support system when it comes to avoiding inactivity.

Always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

Continue reading October 2021 Newsletter: Cancer Prevention 

Written by BWS Lead Health Coach- Kelly Schlather, BS, ASCM – CEP