Okay to Boost Aerobic Activity During Breast Cancer Chemotherapy

young woman running city park

For highly motivated women with breast cancer, exercising at levels higher than currently recommended during chemotherapy (up to 3 hours, 3 times weekly) is safe and will not interfere with the completion of chemotherapy or exacerbate symptoms, a new study suggests. In fact, this regimen could help women keep fit during chemotherapy and better manage their symptoms.

The Study: Within 1 to 2 weeks of starting chemotherapy and until 3 to 4 weeks afterward, the women performed 1 of 3 exercise regimens 3 times a week. Those in the standard-dose group (n = 96) performed 25 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, those in the high-dose group (n = 101) performed 50 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, and those in the combination group (n = 104) performed 50 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise plus resistance exercise.

This study suggests that clinicians can recommend “higher volumes of exercise to breast cancer patients without concerns for adverse effects, provided the exercise is supervised by a qualified exercise specialist,” said lead author Kerry S. Courneya, PhD, professor and Canada research chair in physical activity and cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Adding more aerobic exercise, as opposed to strength training, might be best. However, a critic counters:

“It didn’t seem to make a huge difference whether you were exceeding the recommendations or sticking with what is recommended, and it didn’t show a whole lot of benefit for doing strength training in addition to aerobic activity,” Dr. Ligibel told Medscape Medical News.

The Bottom Line: Check with your care providers to see if you can exercise, either vigorously or less vigorously. You may reduce fatigue, and lower your chances of heart attack, stroke, other cancers, and dementia. We are getting more and more data suggesting significant benefits associated with exercise, even if it is simply walking for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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