My sister has breast cancer. Can she still work out?

Exercise and Cancer

As reported in Science Daily, “Cancer patients historically [have been] told, and often still are told, to go home, relax, don’t overdo it,” explains Karen Mustian, Ph.D., one of the few scientifically trained exercise psychologists with a specialty in cancer in the United States. “However, we are beginning to see that change, just as it did years ago in cardiology. Individuals who suffer heart attacks today are placed into a formal exercise rehabilitation program as part of their recovery. I think we will find that exercise also helps improve the physical and mental well-being of cancer survivors, and in fact, an exercise program for cancer survivors may become the norm of the future.

The article goes on to say that though research in this area is relatively new, early studies show promise. The American Association for Cancer Research presented results from the national Nurses Health study that shows that exercise seemed to boost the survival rates among the most active of 2,167 women with breast cancer.

Budding research seems to focus on moderate exercise—things like daily walks, daily resistance-band exercises (1 set of 8 to 10 reps and gradually increasing to 3 to 4 sets), and Tai Chi. Early reports show groups who exercise seem to improve strength, flexibility and heart and lung function, in addition to reducing fatigue and improving mood, self-esteem and quality of life.

Treatment for breast and other cancers can be very hard on the body and can also decrease appetite. Thus, most patients being treated have decreased energy and a decreased ability to exercise.

This deficit directly results from treatment as well as not being able to supply the body with the nutrients it needs to sustain physical activity.

Link between Cancer and Exercise

This is not to say cancer patients should avoid exercise; they simply need to provide their bodies with the most nutrient-dense foods available and monitor their energy levels.

Also, it is extremely important that cancer patients discuss their desire to exercise with their physicians. The oncologist will be monitoring bone density, blood chemistry, and other levels vital to survival, so it is imperative that the patient’s oncologist is fully aware of the intended nutrition and exercise regimen.


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