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Exercise and Nutrition After Breast Cancer Surgery

Exercise After Breast Cancer Surgery

Exercise improves your self-esteem, mood, and well-being. Exercise after breast cancer surgery is no exception. And studies have shown a link between being overweight and breast cancer recurrence. So losing weight through exercise may help you restore your health and improve your chances of avoiding more cancer.

Fatigue often lingers after surgery. It may be worse if you've also had chemotherapy and radiation. Still, most experts say some form of regular exercise is good, even if you start with short walks around the block. Exercise can boost your energy. And exercise after breast cancer surgery may lower the risk of cancer recurrence.

Breast Cancer: Goals for Exercise

1. Talk with your doctor before starting.

For the first days and weeks after breast cancer surgery, focus on protecting your incision. Also focus on protecting any other tender areas from bumping and bruising. Don't carry heavy things like children or groceries. Once your doctor says you can start exercising, start slowly and carefully. Think about seeing a physical therapist experienced with breast cancer. A therapist can help you improve your range of motion, strength, and flexibility in the affected arm and shoulder after surgery.

If you had a lumpectomy to remove a breast lump, or surgery to remove part of your breast (a partial mastectomy), you can begin exercising fairly quickly.

If you had surgery to remove the lymph nodes under your arm, you're at higher risk of swelling of the arm, called lymphedema. This is especially true if you receive radiation. That's because fluids can't drain normally from your arm. Lymphedema can happen any time after surgery or radiation. You'll need to protect your arm from injury. You may also need to avoid exercises such as tennis, running, and some styles of yoga that use your arms for some time after surgery.

If you choose to have breast reconstruction surgery, you may have several surgeries ahead of you. That may mean you'll have to put off exercise for longer.

2. Choose an exercise you enjoy.

The best exercise for you is the one you'll stick with and enjoy -- and one that's safe, given your type of breast cancer surgery. Start with brisk walking. Or try using a stationary bike so you can sit upright without leaning on your arms. Other exercises that don't require you to put weight on your arms include tai chi, qigong, and gentle yoga. Later, add more vigorous exercise that uses your arms more. You might try running, swimming, cycling, hiking, more vigorous yoga, and other aerobic exercises.

3. Work up to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Go slowly and safely in the months after surgery. Work up to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, unless your doctor says not to.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Angela Jain on April 14, 2014

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