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Archive for the ‘Exercise for breast cancer’ Category

Strength Training Prevents Lymphedema

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

It's time to update your thinking about preventing lymphedema, a possible side effect of breast cancer treatments that causes a painful swelling of the arm.  A current study shows that strength training exercises can actually reduce the risk of developing this unwelcome complication, improve symptoms if they develop, and prepare women to return to their normal day-to-day activities.

Traditionally, women have been advised against lifting weights and performing repetitive arm movements like scrubbing, pushing and pulling.  While some women altered their lifestyles out of fear of triggering an episode, many others were not able to abide by the old restrictions because of their normal physical demands such as picking up a child, carrying a laptop, or doing housework.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2009, found that weight lifters had fewer problems because they had better muscle tone and endurance.  The program of progressive weightlifting exercises gradually increased the physical capacity of the affected arm in a controlled setting, making it less likely that daily activities that require upper body strength would overstress the impaired lymphatic system.

In the study, the women worked out twice a week for one year.  In addition to the upper body exercises, they also did a cardiovascular warm up, stretching, and abdominal, back and lower body exercises.  Stretches should focus on the chest and shoulders, since tightness in the pectoral area and decreased shoulder mobility can both interfere with normal lymph drainage.  It is important to restore full range of motion in these areas before starting to strengthen them.

Not surprisingly, at the end of a year the women in the exercise group showed an increase in strength over the control group.  More surprisingly, in that time only nine exercisers had a flare up as opposed to nineteen non-exercisers.  Furthermore, the weight-lifters experienced fewer and less severe symptoms.   Some of the additional stated benefits were improvements in mobility, balance and coordination.

 Safety Guidelines for Strength Training: 

1)         Always check with your doctor before becoming much more physically active than you are now.

2)         If you have lymphedema, talk with your doctor to make sure that your lymphedema is stable (i.e. you haven’t had new problems in the last three months).

3)         Wear a custom-fitted compression sleeve while exercising.

4)         Consult with a certified exercise professional regarding proper weight lifting techniques.

5)         Start slowly and progress gradually. Stop if you have pain, increased swelling or discomfort.

6)         In the event of a flare up, have an evaluation by a lymphedema specialist and wait untilthe flare subsides before resuming lifting. 

Of course, this information should not take the place of guidance from your own physician or other medical professional. 





Active Lifestyle Reduces Risk of Breast Cancer

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

As we become more aware of the role that exercise plays in managing our risk factors for developing breast cancer and/or preventing a recurrence, it becomes apparent that being active is one of the top ways to avoid this disease.

Hundreds of studies show that getting exercise and avoiding weight gain can lower your risk of developing breast cancer.  Most studies see a benefit at 30 minutes of walking a day. One large study by the American Cancer Society study tracked 72,000 postmenopausal women for 5 years and found that the most active women - those who engaged in activities like walking, running, swimming, tennis, biking, aerobics and dancing- had a 29% lower risk of breast cancer than the least active. 

How is exercise protective?  In postmenopausal women, since the ovaries are no longer producing estrogen, the main source of estrogen is fat cells.  Reducing body weight and body fat with exercise decreases the amount of circulating estrogen that could stimulate breast-cell growth.   Being heavy increases your risk by as much as 40%.  One study showed that women who gained more than 20 pounds after age 18 had a higher risk of postmenopausal breast cancer than women who gained no more than 5 pounds.

 If you have been exercising and you do develop breast cancer, you will be better prepared to tolerate the treatments.  It's important to keep a positive mind set for getting through the treatment and think about living a healthy life afterward.  You want to create a positive mental environment for your body where it will be nurtured and thrive.



Adding Up the Benefits of Exercise for Breast Cancer

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Are you aware of how little activity it takes to reduce your risk of breast cancer? More than 30 studies show that as few as three hours a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity can both reduce your risk for developing breast cancer and lower a chance of recurrence by as much as 40%.  That's a great return on an investment of about 30 minutes a day.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

You don't have to join a gym, run a marathon or buy fancy equipment.  Power walking is more than sufficient!  Think "activity" instead of "workout."  Find opportunities to move.

Minutes add up: Build activity into your day.  If you can't find 30 continuous minutes, just accumulate the total in smaller increments of 10 and 15 minute segments.  Make every minute count – walk down the hall to speak with a colleague at work instead of emailing, walk or bike to work, use the stairs rather than the elevators. Put energy into every minute of movement.

Add steps to your day:  Step up your level of activity.  A pedometer, app or tracking device provides a good reality check and can motivate you to higher numbers.  Experts recommend a goal of 10,000 steps a day which may seem miles away from your personal reality; but another advantage of the pedometer is that you can set your own goals.  See how many steps you're currently accumulating during the course of your day and create a goal based on that.  When you've reached the first goal, set another one, and continue to build, step by step.  Tangible progress creates incentive and enhances self-esteem while you're building physical stamina.

Visit our previous blog posts for more information on exercise for breast cancer prevention and recovery:

Continuing the Conversation on Breast Health

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Angelina Jolie made headlines with her brave announcement of having a preventive double mastectomy to preserve her health. Studies show that exercise can also help prevent breast cancer, lower a chance of recurrence and serve as a form of treatment during recovery.

How much exercise do you need to protect against breast cancer?

Nearly 30 studies have shown that women who exercise at moderate to vigorous levels for three or more hours per week reduce their risk of getting breast cancer by 30-40%. Other studies show that two and a half hours of exercise a week could lower a breast cancer patient's risk of recurrence by 40 percent.

Walking is one of the most accessible and effective means of exercise, available to all of us. If you can't manage 30 minutes of continuous walking five days of the week (for the recommended two and a half hours total), then break it up into brief 10 or 15 minute sessions to accumulate the 30 minutes. Small doses of exercise done consistently over time have a dramatic pay off in health benefits.

What types of exercise can you do during/after breast cancer treatment?

Stretching on a daily basis keeps freedom of movement in the arm and shoulder joints, and combats the natural tendency of scar tissue to contract. It will also help improve your posture by restoring the alignment of the torso and counteracting the natural tendency to slump as a protective action. Use deep breathing to advance into a stretch: when you feel any pain or restriction, hold the position, take three deep breaths and try to relax deeper into the stretch. If pain continues, stop.

Strength training prevents muscle atrophy and decline that comes from disuse. It can help relieve back pain and neck stiffness. To begin your program, use light free weights to strengthen the muscles around the surgical site: the back, shoulders and arms. Be sure to do the exercises on both sides of your body. As you progress, incorporate exercises to work your lower body and core for full-body conditioning. Consult with a certified exercise professional regarding proper weight training techniques. Monitor your arm for discomfort and stop if you experience swelling or feelings of heaviness, pain or heat.

Of course this information should not take the place of guidance from your own physician or other medical professional. Always consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program or becoming much more physically active.

Continue the Conversation on Breast Health on Dr. Radio

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

LISTEN LIVE: Joan Pagano on Rehabilitative Medicine Show with host Dr. Jonathan Whiteson

DATE: Monday, May 20
TIME: 7-8 am ET
LOCATION: Sirius XM Radio Channel.81


Angelina Jolie made headlines with her brave announcement of having a preventive double mastectomy to preserve her health. Studies show that exercise can also help prevent breast cancer, lower a chance of recurrence and serve as a form of treatment during recovery.

Tune in to hear Joan Pagano's live interview on exercise and breast cancer. Get answers to your questions from a seasoned fitness professional with 20 years experience working with breast cancer survivors.

  • How much exercise do you need to protect against breast cancer?
  • What types of exercise can you do during/after breast cancer treatment?
  • Safety guidelines for stretching and strengthening after a mastectomy/reconstruction.

Call in with questions/comments: 877-NYU-DOCS

Exercises to Speed Your Recovery after Breast Surgery

Monday, October 1st, 2012

My long term client recently had a bilateral mastectomy.  I have known this woman for 24 years and she has always been physically active, training with me as well as keeping up with the exercises on her own.  She asked to meet with me before her surgery to be reassured that she would be able to maintain a physical lifestyle and do everything she had done before – workout, swim, ski, play tennis.

The goal after breast surgery is to recover your previous level of functioning and reclaim your normal activity level.

Appropriate exercise can definitely be the pathway to recovery.  Doctors advise walking as soon as possible after breast surgery, beginning in the hospital and continuing throughout all phases of treatment.  As soon as the surgeon gives permission, you can begin carefully planned exercise with a nurse, physical therapist or trained volunteer.

Once the drains are removed (7-10 days after surgery) mobility exercises help restore full range of motion in the arm and shoulder area. These are exercises like head, neck and shoulder isolations as well as the classic wall climb and "chickens." To open the chest and improve posture, perform simple stretches while doing deep breathing. For example, lie on your back, place a pillow under the affected arm and shoulder, position your arm to feel the stretch, and let gravity assist in relaxing the muscles.

When pain free range of motion has been restored and the wound is healed, you can begin gentle strengthening exercises to support the muscles around the mastectomy site.  Some of these exercises have the additional advantage of pumping the lymphatic system, like the shoulder blade squeeze ("W's"), shoulder rotation with arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level, and elbow bend ("biceps curl").  Gradually, you can incorporate exercises using light weights or stretch bands.

During the time of cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment, the goal is to maintain all the daily routines that comprise your lifestyle.  Regular physical activity can help discharge tension and put your system back in balance.  As you feel better, you restore your confidence and self-esteem,
reinforcing the mind-body aspect of returning to normal.