April 3, 2000 (Nederland, Colo.) -- Jill Forrest, diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, wanted to continue her workout routine, but she couldn't find any guidelines for exercising after a mastectomy. So she decided to fill the void herself. Forrest collaborated with her personal trainer and surgeon to create a 50-minute exercise video for breast cancer survivors. The video, called "Better than Before," features Forrest and other survivors demonstrating three different workout routines designed for various stages in the recovery process. Six years after Forrest received her diagnosis, the American Cancer Society is writing guidelines to help people with all types of cancer make informed decisions about exercise. The recommendations should be completed by June of this year. Alexis Williams, project assistant for nutrition and physical activity at the organization, says cancer patients should start slowly. "For people in active treatment, the best advice is to just do what you feel you can tolerate," she says. "Start with 10- to 15-minute walks once or twice a day."
Before starting an exercise program, consult with your doctor to find out if there are any special precautions you should take. Williams says you should be extra careful to stay hydrated and ask your doctor before going out in the sunlight, since some medications can make sun exposure risky. And choose an exercise that you feel comfortable with and that's unlikely to injure you. If you've never skied before, for instance, now is probably not the time to start.
"Don't overdo it, but don't 'underdo' it either," says Kerry Courneya, a cancer exercise expert at the University of Alberta in Canada. "Build up slowly, but be steady. Try to do a little something each day. If you feel extremely tired, take the day off. But if you feel a little tired, go ahead and exercise."
Christie Aschwanden is a freelance science writer based in Nederland, Colo.