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Exercise and breast cancer

If you’ve had breast cancer treatment, physical activity can benefit you in many ways. Get ideas on where to start and how to build healthy habits with our guide.

1. Why exercise?

Physical activity has many benefits for people who’ve had treatment for breast cancer, from reducing fatigue to helping regain a sense of control. 

You don’t need an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment to get active. There are many ways to make physical activity an enjoyable part of everyday life. 

Before starting any type of activity, talk to your specialist team or GP.

We've also got more information on physical activity during and soon after treatment and arm and shoulder exercises after breast surgery.

Benefits of exercise

Regular physical activity can help maintain or improve your health during and after treatment. It can: 

  1. Help avoid or reduce some side effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, weight gain, and
  2. Improve your long-term health, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and may reduce the risk of the cancer coming back 
  3. Help your mental wellbeing by reducing anxiety, stress and depression, and improving your mood
  4. Prevent or reduce the loss of muscle tone and general fitness that can happen during and after treatment

As well as being active, it’s important to eat a healthy diet. 

2. How much physical activity?

Generally, people who’ve had a breast cancer diagnosis are recommended to do the same amount of physical activity as the general population. 

National guidelines 

According to national guidelines, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as brisk walking (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity such as running) every week. They should also do some muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week. 

Visit the NHS website for more information about the physical activity guidelines, including what counts as moderate, vigorous and muscle-strengthening activity.    

If you’re dealing with the effects of treatment

Some treatments for breast cancer can make you feel very tired or unwell. If this is how you’re feeling at the moment, don’t worry about how much exercise you do. Even a small amount of activity will have benefits.

Any amount of activity is better than none; if you struggle to do 150 minutes a week, start by trying to reduce the time you spend sitting down or being inactive and gradually increase this over time.

If you have a medical condition that means you can’t do much physical activity, try to be as active as you can. Even a small increase in exercise is thought to benefit your health. You can ask a healthcare professional about the most suitable types of activities for you.

If you’ve had breast surgery, check with your treatment team when you can start exercising and what type of activity would be best for you. 

3. Where to start

It’s best to start slowly with an activity you enjoy and gradually build up the amount you do. 

For example, if you enjoy walking, start walking a short distance regularly. If you’re managing this easily, gradually build up the distance, number of times a day you walk, or the speed at which you walk. 

A pedometer or a pedometer app for your phone can help you monitor your progress.

Setting realistic goals, keeping a record of how much activity you do and sharing your progress with other people may help you stay motivated.

Make it part of your day

There are many ways to include exercise in your daily routine including:

  • Energetic housework or gardening
  • Parking your car a little further away from the shops or work and walking the rest of the way
  • Getting off the bus a stop earlier than you need to and walking
  • Using the stairs instead of talking the lift
  • Sitting less and standing more, for example you could walk around when talking on the phone

Before you start

Before starting any type of activity, talk to your treatment team or GP. 

What exercise and how much you do will depend on a number of different things including:

  • Whether you did any exercise before you had treatment for breast cancer
  • Whether you have had breast reconstruction
  • Whether you have any side effects from the treatment you have had or continue to have
  • Whether you have any other health conditions such as osteoporosis or heart problems

4. Find out more

The NHS website has a wide range of information about exercise.

Walking for Health helps people become more active.

We are Undefeatable is a national campaign to support people with long-term health conditions to be active.

Find tips on keeping active after breast cancer in Becca, our free app - see below.

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