What are the benefits of exercise?

There are many known physical and psychological benefits to exercising including:

  • Increase your strength, endurance and overall well-being
  • Help maintain a healthy body weight
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Boosts your energy levels
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Aid in quicker recovery from surgery and other treatments

Exercise may also help to reduce your risk of:

  • Breast cancer recurrence
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lymphedema

Is it safe to exercise during treatment?

Exercise during and after breast cancer treatment is generally safe. In the past, people were advised to rest while they recovered from cancer treatment. However, it is now encouraged for people to be as physically active as their condition and abilities allow. It’s important to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Your doctor can help you determine what kind of program is right for you or refer you to a physiotherapist if needed.

Is it safe to exercise after surgery?

The flexibility and strength in your arm may be affected by breast cancer surgery, especially if you have had lymph nodes removed. There are specific stretching exercises that you should do to help you regain a comfortable range of motion. Certain activities such as swimming, raking, and gardening should be avoided immediately following surgery.

My treatments are leaving me feeling too tired to exercise.What should I do?

Breast cancer treatment can be physically draining. Exercise can actually help re-energize you, if you don’t overdo it. Try to exercise when you are feeling the least tired if you are finding it difficult to get started.

What types of exercise should I do?

Exercise should not be too hard or too easy. Any type exercise that requires a moderate amount of energy and effort will provide you with health benefits. It should make you breathe harder, but not make you feel very out of breath (you should be able to carry on a conversation). Some types of activities you can do may include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Playing with your children or grandchildren

How often should I exercise?

Try to aim for 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most days of the week. You can break this up into smaller periods throughout the day if that is more convenient. For example you can walk 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunchtime and 10 minutes in the evening.

What if I’ve never exercised before?

It’s never too late to start exercising. If you have not exercised regularly before, start slowly and build up to a level that you are comfortable with. Having someone else to exercise with may help motivate you, so you may want to ask a friend or family member to join you. You might also want to consider joining an exercise class; hospitals and cancer support centres sometimes offer classes designed for people with cancer. Remember it’s important to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Links to more information

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Exercise and Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer Network Australia

Exercising During Cancer Treatment
National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Exercises after Breast Cancer Surgery
American Cancer Society

Exercise & Cancer
OncoLink (Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania)

Exercise & Cancer: When, How & Where
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

Rehabilitation Exercises after Breast Cancer Treatment
Canadian Cancer Society

Back on Track! A Guide to Stretching and Exercises after Surgery for Breast & Gynecologic Cancers
Breast Cancer Support Services


The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan, by Carolyn M. Kaelin, with Francesca Coltrera, Josie Gardiner, and Joy Prouty. This book provides workouts tailored for each type of surgery and adapted for differing fitness levels.