What is the impact of exercise on breast cancer risk and recovery?

WESTON, Fla. – Women who exercise regularly can lower their risk of breast cancer by 10 to 20 percent, but many wonder whether it’s safe to exercise during and after breast cancer treatment.

As a competitive body building, 55-year old Jeanette Martin has been keenly focused on diet and exercise including a daily three-hour training routine.

“I’ve been seriously into body building for about 6 years but always very athletic,” Martin said.

Just before a national event in September 2019, she found herself facing a different challenge; breast cancer.

“I knew about the diagnosis before stepping on the stage and had already committed in my mind that I was going to finish and win this competition and then address the breast cancer issue,” Martin said.

For women with breast cancer, studies have shown that exercise may actually improve survival.

“Also it helps their mental health and helps them decrease anxiety and depression and maintain a healthy weight which is really important in terms of cancer recurrence,” said Dr. Zeina Nahleh, with the Cleveland Clinic Weston.

Nahleh said the intensity and duration of exercise depends on how active someone was prior to their diagnosis.

“Generally we recommend patients start slowly and gently; doing aerobic exercises like just walking around the neighborhood,” she said.

Martin believes her strong and competitive nature helped her through her treatment during which she continued her training routinely, though not as aggressively.

“I treated it like a competition. My coaches said ‘listen, it’s breast cancer, it’s like prep. Take six months, handle it, beat it and move on to the next challenge,’ and that’s exactly what I did,” Martin said.

Regardless of someone’s personal fitness levels, breast cancer specialists said patients do need to consult with their treatment team to make sure the activity doesn’t compromise their recovery.

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