Exercise And Breast Cancer
One Sunday afternoon, I stopped by a children’s clothing store to distribute a few postcards for my new book. Upon leaving the parking lot, my six year old son caught a glimpse of “those sticker ribbons with two lines”. In my half-engaged attention, I acknowledged his observation that there were “more than three” on this one particular car. From his persistence to gain my feedback, I began to focus a bit more on our conversation. I informed him that I was not exactly clear of what he meant by the description of this two-lined ribbon. “You know, the red one, the boob problem, and the…”. Ground zero! I realized that he was speaking of the Awareness Ribbons that so emphatically adorn vehicles these days. I started to chuckle at his innocence in remembering my recent 15-minute explanation of breast cancer as “the boob problem”. However, after briefly giggling at his simplistic notion, I struck a more serious note to remember that the disease is far from funny and can leave heartache and devastation in its vicious path. In fact, according to Dr. Susan Love, breast cancer affects 110 women every day.
One of my first encounters as a Personal Trainer was with a recovering breast cancer client that came to me while working in a swim and racquet club. If you have ever met a breast cancer victor you will notice that their eyes reflect a beautiful understanding and acceptance of life. Even the way she approached me was filled with grace. Wanting to strengthen her body after the illness, she inquired about a weight training routine. She had a beaming, yet subtle smile with each simple question that she asked of me. To look at her would never disclose of her recent pain. Her hair was a short trendy style, her skin tan from frequent sunshine and her legs still presented the years of tennis that kept her fit. I was honored to take the position as her trainer and we worked together on a program toward rebuilding her body for not only the purpose of strength and endurance, but to attain a touch of inner peace as well.
Recovery from breast cancer is not so different a program than simply exercising to avoid such a catastrophic event in a woman’s life. If you have followed fitness for any amount of time, visited your doctor or taken a class in school, the informative path to righteous living is well paved with getting the blood flowing and the heart pounding. In turn, you increase your chances of avoiding disease (heart-related, cancer, diabetes). Likewise, if you have successfully battled breast cancer and yearn for a method of counterattack to lessen the unpleasant after affects, the all-knowing finger will be pointing in the same direction…the local gym. Even as early as the 1980’s, research was proving that aerobic exercise improved fatigue levels and nausea in post cancer patients. Fast forward to present and the benefits have multiplied over the years. Subsequent studies indicate that weight training, aerobic exercise, and fitness emphasizing mind and body (i.e., yoga) all have a substantial impact of up to 25-50% improvement on pain, fatigue, overall optimism, the general fitness level of the individual and how much a person can improve their quality of daily life, complete with its energy-draining tasks.
It is clear that exercise plays a tremendous role in helping breast cancer survivors feel better. But what are the details of program design? First and foremost, you want to stay clear of stress on the surgical or stitched area. Next, and just as important, begin with the usual 10-15 minute warm-up, no matter if you are doing weight training sets, a cardio routine or a number of yoga poses. It is after this warm-up that variety begins. For resistance/weight training exercises, you will want to start the initial phase of your program with a lowered weight volume but with up to double the repetitions. Elastic tubing and bands are also a good start for the first phase. Though you may not be directly working the muscle tissue in your surgical area, many muscles work together in stabilizing another muscle’s contraction. The lesser weight will insure that your wound is not overexerted to soon. The standard 2-3 sets are appropriate with 15-20 repetitions. Another area of exercise is that of cardiovascular training. Cardio machines such as the treadmill or elliptical machines are good examples that can be used for 3-4 days per week. In your initial phase of a recovery fitness routine, you may want to follow an interval program where you begin the session with a higher-intensity minute followed by a low-intensity minute, totaling up to thirty minutes. As your condition improves, you can reduce your low intensity minute to 30 seconds and eventually eliminate it all together.
Finally, mind and body exercises such as yoga go a step further in fitness. Not only are you strengthening your body, you are also tapping into inner peace with each slow and controlled breath and a static meditative posture. Ideal for achieving relaxation, this type of training can be utilized for as little as 5-15 minute a day and still present positive results.
While breast cancer awareness has reached far heights as even that of former president, Bill Clinton, who signed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000, it does not stop the fact that the disease continues to take more and more lives all the time. While a cure is currently elusive, preventative measures are not. Engaging in a fitness program that includes healthy eating, routine exercise and positive mental development will only help you in your quest for creating a life that will not only enable you to enjoy the present moment, but also increase the chances of a healthy and prolonged life.