Manuel A. Torres-Salichs MD,FACS Surgical Oncology, Breast Surgeon

Edileidis Tarrio, ARNP-BC, OCN





Exercise and Breast Cancer

It is important for breast cancer survivors to understand the positive implications of diet and lifestyle modifications to improve the quality of life and survival. We know the proven benefits of a healthy diet and routine exercises can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and its mortality. Exercise helps reduce the chances of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Physical activity keeps the body strong and helps to prevent memory loss. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood, body image, and self esteem in women with breast cancer.

Recent studies have shown that in breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, slowly progressive exercise and weight lifting had no significant effect on limb swelling and resulted in a decrease incidence of exacerbation of lymphedema, reduced symptoms, and increased strength. Exercise lowers the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and diabetes.

Exercise and Breast Cancer Survival

What about the benefits in women who have already had breast cancer? A limited number of studies have been conducted looking at their effect on survival of breast cancer patients. Some studies suggest that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women, and experts believe this is because exercise lowers a woman's ongoing exposure to estrogen, which is believed to contribute to cancer growth. While some studies have found a positive relationship between exercise and breast cancer, others have found no relationship at all. A research from the Nurses Health Study found that women who walked 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace, or did an equivalent amount of exercise were 50% less likely to die from breast cancer than sedentary women. The exact reason is not known but exercise could lower the levels of certain hormones, thereby suppressing cancer growth and recurrence. Exercise can also assist in the recovery process for women who undergo a mastectomy. Stretching and working with weights can rebuild any muscle strength lost due to surgery, improve flexibility and range of motion, and may increase a patient's overall sense of well-being.

Either way, exercise is important for staying healthy and, when it comes to recovering from breast cancer, that's when exercise really becomes important.

Exercise is not a replacement for standard breast cancer treatment. Exercise is an additional way to ensure a long-term health. A woman has little to lose and much to gain from exercise after a breast cancer diagnosis.

Some Benefits of Exercising Include:

  Overall exercise has a positive effect on physical and psychological functioning of cancer patients while in treatment
  Increased functional capacity
  Decreased body fat
  Decrease nausea and fatigue
  Improve natural defense mechanisms
  Improve sense of control
  Improved mood
  Improved self-esteem improved quality of life

Types of Exercises

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that everyone participate in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. It is important to choose a type of exercise that you will enjoy and stick with. These include:

• Aerobics
• Bicycle ergometer
• Biking
• Jogging
• Kayaking
• Paddling
• Pilates
• Rowing
• Rowing ergometer
• Step aerobics
• Swimming
• Tai chi
• Walking
• Water aerobics
• Weight lifting
• Yoga


Yoga is a calming exercise that strengthens and tones the body without raising the heart rate. It has been shown to improve the mood and sense of wellbeing of its practitioners. It involves a series of postures and synchronized breathing that improves circulation, detoxifies muscles, and organs. Improved circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins from the body. Through the practice of yoga, the body becomes healthy, light and strong. This results in a calm mind.
The inciting process for breast cancer has yet to be defined. It is clear that certain controllable behaviors may be the trigger mechanisms, and changes in lifestyle may be one's best protection from becoming another victim of some very preventable diseases.

The practice of yoga energizes the body, mind and spirit. Yoga incorporates meditation, relaxation, controlled breathing, stretching, and physical movements. Gentle stretches improve range of motion and aids in diminishing the effects and discomfort of scar tissue. Breast cancer survivors who practice gentle and restorative yoga tend to enjoy better health. They experience improvement in sleep quality, reduction in fatigue and better quality of life.

Tai Chi

Cancer treatment causes bone loss in both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer patients. Chemotherapy has a negative effect on bone health and causes a decrease in mineral bone density. Women who experience failure of the ovaries due to the treatment can also lose bone mineral density. Bone loss in postmenopausal women is mainly attributed to the use of aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and chemotherapy.
Bone mineral loss causes an increased fracture rate among breast cancer survivors. Fractures in breast cancer patients have serious effects resulting in an increased morbidity, mortality, and negative quality of life. Any type of weight-bearing exercise slows the rate of bone loss in breast cancer patients and the population in general.

Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art originated in the 12th-century that combines slow, circular, fluid movements with deep breathing and relaxation. Over time, people began to use it for health purposes as well. People practice tai chi by themselves or in groups. It is often practiced in the early morning before going to work. There are many different styles, but all involve slow, relaxed, graceful movements, each flowing into the next. The body is in constant motion and posture is important. Individuals practicing tai chi must also concentrate, as they must breathe in a deep and relaxed, but focused manner.
This is an ideal exercise to preserve bone health in breast cancer patients. Several studies have shown that persons that practice tai chi regularly have a higher bone mineral density compared to those who do not exercise. Tai Chi has also been shown to improve strength, flexibility, heart and lung function, self-esteem, and quality of life.

Many people practice tai chi to improve their health and well-being. Tai chi is a low- impact exercise that is considered relatively safe. Studies have shown that tai chi may help to increase heart and lung function, strength, flexibility, balance, and feelings of well-being. Always consult your physician prior to starting tai chi.

Save Our Sisters (SOS) South Florida Dragon Boat Team

Save Our Sisters is South Florida's first dragon boat team consisting of Breast Cancer Survivors and their supporters. Their mission is to educate the public about breast health awareness, assist in providing breast cancer screening and treatment to underprivileged women in the community; to raise funds for breast cancer research and other breast cancer affiliated women's services; to serve as role models; to mentor those newly diagnosed with breast cancer; and to promote a healthy, active lifestyle and provide organized opportunities for physical fitness, wellness education, and psycho-social empowerment among Breast Cancer Survivors and their supporters.

Dragon boat racing has a lot to offer to breast cancer survivors. This is a team sport that demands precise coordination from its practitioners. Boat paddling is one of the most effective calorie burners and is excellent for strengthening the arms, back, shoulder, and abdominal muscles. It rebuilds areas of the chest and arms affected by cancer and surgery.

The SOS team members are breast cancer survivors. Their diagnosis has brought them together in the fight and race against breast cancer. Their courage and determination is a powerful example that women can lead a full and vigorous life after treatment for breast cancer.

"Living a healthy lifestyle is a sensible choice for breast cancer survivors."

Make sure to talk to a physician before beginning an exercise program. Always pay attention to symptoms of overexertion, such as dizziness, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, swelling, numbness, and headaches among others.


These include patients undergoing chemotherapy. Some of these patients experience a low white blood cell count and their immune system is compromised. They are at a higher risk for infections. Patients with anemia should avoid strenuous exercises that could cause fatigue. Swimming is contraindicated in patients undergoing radiation therapy. Women, who had a breast surgery or surgery to remove the lymph nodes, should talk to their physician prior to starting an exercise program.


Always listen to your body. You should begin an exercise program slowly if you have had sedentary life prior to your diagnosis. You can progress as you build strength and endurance. A progressive weight-training program is acceptable as long as it is well structured.