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Breast Cancer Health Center

Exercise Benefits Breast Cancer Patients

Study: Physical Activity Reduces Fatigue, Depression
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 15, 2012 -- Exercising may not be at the top of the "to do" list for most women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, but it probably should be, according to a new study.

The new research from the University of Miami finds that regular exercise can reduce depression, lessen fatigue, and improve general quality of life during treatment when combined with group-based behavioral therapy to reduce stress.

The research is not the first to show that physical activity helps breast cancer patients, but it is among the first to show that exercise enhances the benefits of other stress management efforts, says researcher Jamie M. Stagl, MS, who is a doctoral candidate in psychology.

"Women in the study benefited from even moderate activity," Stagl tells WebMD. "You don't have to go to the gym every day, and this is probably not the time to train for a marathon. Just taking a brisk walk or even playing with your kids can boost endorphin levels and make you feel a lot better."

One Survivor's Story

Breast cancer survivor Crystal King knows the power of exercise firsthand.

King took up running within a few months of her breast cancer surgery late in 2003, and she now regularly competes in 5Ks that benefit her employer, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.

"I exercised at the gym before my diagnosis, but something told me to lace up my sneakers and get outside after my surgery," says King, who is now 34. "I just knew I wouldn't be sad while I was outside running. It also gave me some measure of control, which breast cancer takes away from you."

King didn't always feel up to exercising while undergoing chemotherapy, and she didn't push herself on the days when she felt the worst.

"But on the days when I was on the fence, I was always glad when I got out there because I felt so much better," she says.

Exercise Improves Mood, Energy Level

The University of Miami researchers conducted their study to find out if physical activity enhances the positive effects of group-based stress management programs for breast cancer patients.

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