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The best exercises for breast cancer survivors

Linda Melone, CSCS, is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and certified personal trainer based in Orange County, CA. Visit her website at www.LindaMelone.com.

Breast cancer survivor fitness

No matter what type of breast cancer treatments you've had, exercise can help you regain your strength as well as your ability to perform daily activities. Here are the best exercises for breast cancer survivors.

Breast cancer survivor exercising

Even mild exercise offers health benefits

Women treated for breast cancer who walked 25 to 45 minutes a day at a 2- to 3-mile pace for three to five hours a week increased their survival rate, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even those who exercised only one hour a week benefited. Walking and other exercise helps better your mood and boosts your self-confidence as well.

Expert TipsExercise guidelines for breast cancer survivors

Once you have the go-ahead from your doctor, the American Cancer Society has these general observations and guidelines:

  • Expect to feel tightness in your chest and armpit after surgery, which should decrease with regular exercise and stretching.
  • Surgery may irritate the nerves and cause burning, tingling or numbness on the back of the arm or chest. If this does not dissipate within a few weeks or you notice unusual swelling or tenderness, see your doctor.
  • Take a warm shower to help muscles relax before exercising.
  • Start out with five to seven repetitions for each exercise, which may be done daily.

Best exercises for breast cancer survivors

Important: Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Wand exercise

This exercise increases the range of motion of your shoulders. Use a yardstick, broom handle or other stick-like object to perform this move.

Start position: Lie on your back with bent knees, feet flat on the floor and hold the "wand" in both hands, palms facing up.

Movement: Lift the wand up and over your head as far as you can, using your unaffected arm to help lift the wand until you feel a stretch in your affected arm. Hold 5 seconds. Lower arms and repeat.

Elbow winging

This exercise increases the range of motion of the chest and shoulders, although it may take weeks of exercise before your elbows get close to the floor.

Start position: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and clasp hands behind your neck with elbows pointed toward the ceiling.

Movement: Bring elbows out to the sides and down towards the floor. Repeat.

Shoulder blade stretch

This exercise helps increase range of motion of the shoulder blades.

Start position: Sit in a chair close to a table, with your back against the back of the chair. Place the unaffected arm on the table, palm down with elbow bent. Place the affected arm on the table, palm down, elbow straight.

Movement: Keeping your body stable, slide the affected arm forward, reaching towards the opposite side of the table. You should feel your shoulder blade stretch. Relax, allowing the arm to return to the starting position. Repeat.

For other exercises, visit the American Cancer Society website: www.cancer.org.

More on surviving breast cancer

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