Using movement as medicine after a breast cancer diagnosis
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘movement is medicine’, but can it really help those preparing, going through or recovering from breast cancer treatment?
Over the coming weeks, Sarah Newman, Cancer & Exercise Specialist and Breast Cancer Rehab Coach, will be discussing how to overcome and improve some of the challenges faced by those who have been through a breast cancer.
An introduction to exercising after a breast cancer diagnosis
As you may have experienced first-hand, treatment for breast cancer can conjure up a number of physical and mental side effects that may sound familiar:
- Limited shoulder mobility after surgery.
- Weight management through hormone treatment.
- Lymphoedema and the associated limitations and fears.
- Joint aches and pains limiting movement from ongoing treatments.
- Fatigue, hot flushes, disturbed sleep brought on by medically induced menopause.
- But also mental challenges like loss of body confidence, anxiety, low mood and lack of motivation.
The list seems endless. Can you relate to any of these?
There is a solution, and it is in your control
You’ll be pleased to hear that there is a solution in helping reduce a number these challenges. It’s a new drug that’s completely free and has very few negative side effects. It can help you sleep better, move better, manages your stress, lowers your blood pressure, and helps you keep your weight under control. It improves your heart and lung function and can raise your energy levels. Have you guessed it yet – EXERCISE!
Now this may sound counter intuitive (or too good to be true), and perhaps extremely challenging. ‘How can I exercise when I feel rubbish’ – I hear you cry. But genuinely, extensive research has shown that exercising gently and regularly during and after cancer treatment is safe, feasible and beneficial.1 Regardless of what cancer you have and the care plan you’re given, keeping physically active may have a positive effect on aspects of your physical and mental wellbeing including:1
- Improving overall physical functioning
- Reducing fatigue levels
- Improving or maintaining muscle strength
- Improving or maintaining bone health
- Controlling anxiety
- Raising self-esteem
- Reducing chances of cancer recurrence
Research aside, let me confirm I have not only seen these benefits in my own personal cancer journey but also in the clients I have trained, before, during and after treatment.
Movement is medicine, but like any medicine we need the right type, at the right time and at the right dosage
So just to be clear, we’re not talking about running a marathon or spending hours in the gym, but a simple and gentle exercise programme will help manage many of the side effects mentioned above.
So, to start with, here are the basic ‘need to knows’:
- Gentle exercise is a daily non-negotiable. A 20 minute walk around the block is enough to lift your energy and forms the perfect exercise foundation.
- You MUST prioritise your self-care and make exercise part of this.
- Make exercise something you enjoy. Dancing, gardening, cycling, aerobics. Exercise is meant to be fun so make sure you enjoy it!
- To help keep your bones and joints strong, strength or resistance training need to be part of your plan. Simple exercises with just your body weight are enough to build or maintain joint and bone strength – more on this is later blogs.
- Work with a specialist cancer trainer to support you in understanding the best exercises to help create a plan that’s personal to you and your treatment.
- Anything is possible done in the right way and to suit you.
Look out for my next blog discussing the best upper body exercises for improved shoulder mobility, function and strength after treatment. If you have any questions in the meantime, get in touch!
A bit about Sarah
Sarah was treated for cervical cancer in pregnancy in 2018, and in 2019 launched her fitness business ‘Get Me Back’ (www.getmeback.uk). Seeing first hand the effects of exercise on her own recovery, Sarah wanted to do more to help others who were living with and beyond cancer. Those who had been active before their diagnosis but didn’t know where to go next when it came to exercising, or those who just wanted to get started.
So she started studying to become a Cancer and Exercise Rehabilitation Specialist – a Personal Fitness Trainer with a lot of extra knowledge about how cancer and treatment effects the body and impacts exercise.
Sarah has been working with clients face to face and virtually for more than two years now – some living with or beyond cancer, others who have family members affected by the disease – but she aims to not only give them good advice on how to keep active, but also a safe space to escape the world of cancer and regain a bit of control over their body and mind.
Since lockdown when life and work became very virtual, Sarah’s business has expanded to support those living with and beyond cancer across the UK and even further afield, online. So much so that in 2020 she launched a series of online recovery courses for those who have completed active treatment for breast or gynaecological cancers.
Sarah also runs a monthly online membership offering three weekly group classes, nutritional advice and monthly chats with guest speakers discussing all things wellbeing and cancer.
Sarah’s programmes aim to build participants back up in the safest and most effective ways following their cancer and treatment. But also aim to give members the confidence to re-join more mainstream exercise to continue their journey back to fitness.
Sarah has completed her CanRehab Level 4 Cancer & Exercise Rehabilitation qualification and is also a Breast Cancer Rehab Coach. She works virtually and face to face in the Surrey countryside. Those looking to participate in an exercise programme can be referred to Sarah by emailing
- ACSM: Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Patients and Survivors