Breast cancer and exercise - doing the body good

The breast cancer patient's physical condition as well as her mental state play a very important role in the breast cancer healing process. Already in the hospital, the patients receive tips for subsequent rehabilitation measures, which above all aim to quickly reintegrate those affected into work and social life.

Exercise promotes recovery after breast cancer

Unfortunately, still too few women are taking the opportunity to participate in these ongoing measures to improve the overall physical and mental health of breast cancer. Many breast cancer survivors are tired as a result of the therapy and feel limp or shy about moving for fear of doing something wrong.

But often walks are enough to get moving. Lightweight endurance training (for example walking, walking, jogging, swimming and cycling) as well as effective gymnastics increase self-esteem, increase resistance to stress and reduce anxiety.

The right amount plays an important role here, so that those affected by breast cancer are not overwhelmed. In any case, the attending physician should advise the patient what she may expect. The movement should not be seen as a competitive sport, but above all to improve the general condition.

What has movement to do with cancer?

For a long time, the true benefits of exercise and sports in cancer treatment were misjudged. Twenty years ago skeptical physicians assumed that movement could lead to metastases, but a different picture is currently emerging.

Meanwhile, the positive influence of exercise and sports on cancer patients is considered assured. Physical activities are now an important part of therapy. They serve to strengthen and restore the body and soul.

Studies show the influence of exercise on rehabilitation

The first experiences with exercise therapy in the aftercare and rehabilitation of cancer patients were made in Germany about 25 years ago. At this time, the first cancer after-sports groups emerged. In a first study, scientists from the German Sport University Cologne investigated the effects of physical activities in the rehabilitation of breast cancer patients.

The results were encouraging and showed that exercise had a positive effect on the physical and mental health of breast cancer patients. Through this and other studies, exercise therapy and rehabilitation sport became more and more important in the treatment of cancer.

There are now about 650 special cancer sport groups in Germany. More than 90 percent of the participants are breast cancer patients.

Goals of exercise therapy

Movement therapy in cancer aims to positively affect the patient's physical, mental and psychosocial levels.

Physical level:

  • Thrombosis prophylaxis and promotion of lymphatic reflux
  • Mobilization of the shoulder joint and avoidance of contractures
  • Prevention of pneumonia
  • Obtaining or (re) gaining strength, stamina and coordination
  • Stimulating the cardiovascular system
  • Fighting Fatigue Syndrome (Chronic Fatigue)
  • Strengthening the immune system

Psychic level:

  • Encouraging the patient's motivation and active participation in the recovery process
  • Stress reduction
  • Benefit of your own strengths
  • Distraction from the "problem"
  • Promotion of self-esteem and self-esteem, especially after breast amputation

Psychosocial level:

  • Appeal to personal responsibility
  • Promoting social independence
  • Participation in social life
  • Social coexistence in a group as a supplement or alternative to the self-help group
  • Positive, shared experience of exercise and sport

Which sports are suitable for what?

Every day a cancer patient is different. Even if the affected women feel tired and exhausted, a little exercise can accomplish true miracles.

But it should not be exaggerated or even trained to total exhaustion. Cancer sufferers take longer to recover than non-affected people.

For a sensible exercise recommendation, three treatment phases should be distinguished.

1. acute phase

The patients should start directly after the operation (acute phase) with a targeted physiotherapy (physiotherapy). As a rule, the first stretching and mobilization exercises are carried out from the second day after the operation, under the guidance of a specially trained therapist.

Basically, the operated side as well as the healthy should be involved. Small pumping movements with the hands and forearms prevent edema - in addition, lymph drainage can help. The extent of movement is based on the pain and scarring of the patient. An adjoining stool gym and gait school ensures improved posture and coordination.

If the affected women feel safe, they should move as much as possible in the hospital, preferably every day. Going up stairs, looking at the hospital from the outside - exercise and fresh air are always good.

Even during chemotherapy, which can go on for several months, targeted exercise therapy is possible. The patients should not crawl under their bed. In many hospitals, physical therapists show those affected how certain movements are performed properly. If the chosen chemotherapy has no effect on the cardiovascular system, the patient can start endurance training on the bicycle ergometer, for example, six hours after chemo administration.

During radiation therapy and hormone therapy there is basically nothing against movement-therapeutic activities. The individual feeling and the side effects are the decisive factors here.

2nd rehabilitation phase

Inpatient or outpatient follow-up treatment should usually be started no later than 14 days after discharge from the acute clinic. The three-week rehabilitation ensures a quick reintegration into working life, in society and in everyday life.

There, experienced therapists and doctors take care of the patients, who are slowly and carefully introduced to the training. Here also the first contact with the after-care-cancer-sport-groups near the place of residence should be established. Most clinics have address lists.

3. Rehabilitation sport at home

Arrived at home, many patients feel relieved at first. On the other hand, this situation is often associated with uncertainty and fears that need to be overcome. Exercise can help to reduce anxiety, avoid depressive moods, socialize, and reduce the fatigue that many patients continue to suffer from.

It is important that only regular exercise promotes the further recovery process. It should be chosen forms of exercise that are fun, because only the motivation for constant and regular exercise is maintained. If exercise and sport alone are boring and monotonous, then the cancer after-sports groups are highly recommended.

According to § 44 of the Social Security Code IX, the rehabilitation sport is subsidized in the cancer sports group, and thus every patient has the right to receive these financial benefits. In a cancer after-care sports group, the patients can experience movement under the guidance of specially trained instructors. Here the joy, the social contacts and the positive experience of movement play a central role.

Following physical activities are recommended:

  • General endurance sports (cycling or stationary cycling)
  • Walking, Nordic walking (with low arm use)
  • Cross-country skiing (with low arm use)
  • Swimming and aquagym
  • Modified team and group games (for example volleyball with softball)
  • Light weight training in the gym
  • gymnastics
  • Relaxation method (for example according to Jacobson)

What patients should pay attention to

In acute hospital treatment, training should not be given on days when the patient receives chemotherapy drugs that cause cardiac arrhythmia. Other chemotherapy regains physical activity after six hours of rest. Between an irradiation or tablet intake and the exercise program should be at least one hour.

Exercises that are performed jerkily with the arms or fast circling with the arms are to be avoided in order to prevent a "thick arm" (lymphedema). Any physical activity should be discussed with the attending physician.

In any case, intense physical exertion should be avoided here:

In the acute phase:

  • Strong pain
  • Circulatory problems, dizziness
  • Fever, temperature above 38.0 ° C
  • Nausea, vomiting

In rehab sport:

  • bone metastases
  • Diseases of the cardiovascular system
  • Advanced tumor stages

Sources: Schüle, K. (2005): Sport and Exercise Therapy. In: UNGER, C .; WEIS, J. (ed.): Oncology. Unconventional and supportive therapy strategies. Scientific Verlagsgesellschaft mbH Stuttgart: 7-25.

Schüle, K. (2001): Exercise and Sport in Cancer Aftercare. Forum DKG, 2 (16): 39-41

Lötzerich H, Peters Ch, Seiler R (1996): Sport and Cancer. The influence of sport on the psyche and the immune system of mammary carcinoma patients. Research Innovation Technology: the FIT science magazine of the German Sport University Koeln. (1), 1-4

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