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Breast Cancer and Exercise

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By Robert L. Herron and Cheryl McCormick |

Regular physical activity and/or exercise are important in maintaining one’s health. Further, the benefits of exercise extend to impact breast cancer in many ways.

The risk of developing breast cancer is reduced for those who are more active by 12-21%, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s systematic review. Additionally, in research that compared those who had already been diagnosed with breast cancer, there was a 48% reduction in all-cause mortality for those people who were in the most physically active group versus those in the lowest and a 38% reduction in cancer-specific mortality.

Studies indicate that exercise increases the survival rate for patients with breast cancer. Patients who engage in exercise before their diagnosis and continue exercise after treatment have been found to have lower chances of recurrence. Furthermore, this research indicates that patients with high-risk breast cancer who were consistent with their exercise routines, do better throughout their treatment process and better than those who were inactive.

Of note, physical activity and exercise have been shown to be safe and effective at improving health-related outcomes (e.g., fatigue, quality of life, cancer recurrence, physical capacity) during treatment as well as survivorship as long as the physical activity program is appropriate for the person’s fitness level and current physical limitations (e.g., post-surgery, etc.).

Be aware, the physical activity guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for all adults (75 minutes if intensity is vigorous). Additionally, resistance training is recommended at least 2 times per week. However, it is important to start slow and work you way up. Even short bouts (5 mins) can add up and there is an emphasis to just move your body more as your build up your fitness.

In addition, exercise has been found to have a number of biological factors that affect the body. Exercise can lower the levels of hormones like estrogen and growth factors related to the cancer development process; exercise can help prevent obesity and the harmful effects from it; exercise reduces inflammation; and it can improve the body’s immune system. Breast cancer patients that undergo chemotherapy have been known to develop chemo brain, which states that patients can develop memory loss, lack of concentration, inability to multitask and much more. However, being physically active could reduce cognitive impairment and fatigue.

Please make sure to speak with your physician to get clearance for exercise and then see an exercise professional for assistance. If you are going through breast cancer treatment or are a breast cancer survivor looking to find assistance, check out the US Registry of Exercise Professionals to find a qualified exercise professional near you!   

Robert L. Herron is Acting Director of Sport Exercise Science at the United States Sports Academy.  Robert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® with distinction from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS*D®) and a Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CEP®). Herron can be reached at rherron@ussa.edu

Cheryl McCormick, M.S.S. the owner and founder of Gravitational Performance and School of Sports Science, is also a doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy. Her former years as an athlete has guided her interests into education in sports and passion for research as a sports scientist, content developer, educator, and sport science consultant- working in sports medicine, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. She can be reached at gravitationalperformance@gmail.com and www.gravitationalperformance.org

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