breast cancer

Breast Cancer and Exercise

The diagnosis of Breast Cancer brings challenges, lots of emotions, time off work, a new routine and a heap of side effects.


The last component of treatment that an individual is likely to consider is regular exercise. Let’s talk about why it is important, how it can help and what it means long-term. Exercise is an integral part of management of Breast Cancer during and after treatments have ended.

Regular physical activity will assist with:

  • Maintenance of lean muscle mass
  • Maintenance of Bone Mineral Density (BMD)
  • Manage and reduce cancer-related fatigue
  • Improved mood
  • Maintaining aerobic conditioning
  • Manage flexibility and mobility, especially after surgery and reconstructive surgeries
  • Improve appetite and reduce nausea (a common side effect of chemotherapy)
  • Enhanced outcomes during and post-treatment.
  • Reduction in overall side effects experienced.
  • Improved sense of being connected and social interaction


How much exercise?

The amount and duration of exercise will depend on the individual, their treatment and ability to engage in regular physical activity. Just remember, something is better than nothing.
Overall, the general guidelines for individuals with Breast Cancer are to engage in 30 minutes of exercise on most (5+) days per week. This can be accumulated in 10 minute blocks throughout the day. The intensity of the exercise is recommended to be moderate. This means a slight increase in breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature. You will still be able to maintain a conversation with a friend though!

What type of exercise?

Firstly, find something that you enjoy. Use this time as your time away from all the medical appointments, scans, results and waiting rooms! Any type of exercise is better than none. So maybe try out a few different things and see what feels best for you. It might be a walk with a friend, a yoga or pilates class, a swim or a weekly session with an Exercise Physiologist.

What should I be careful of?

Lymphedema is swelling of the arm or upper limb which can occur in women who have had lymph nodes removed or damaged during surgery. The good news is that exercise and regular movement can reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema as well as managing symptoms for those who do have lymphoedema.
Remember, gradual implementation of exercise is key and will assist in your recovery on many levels. Weight gain is very common after diagnosis which can be related to treatment options as well as lack of activity. Regular physical activity will not only help you to manage your weight but also improve your lean muscle mass so that you are able to maintain your strength and function.

Motivation and where to start?

  • Remember, start small. Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • It might help to have an exercise buddy or friend or family member who joins you or just checks in on how you are going.
  • Set a reminder on your phone or place a reminder quote on your fridge.
  • Keep a diary of how you are feeling. An exercise or mood diary can be satisfying to see you commitment but also provide you with insight on how physical activity is affecting other areas of your life and well-being.
  • Research suitable groups and sessions in your local area and community.


What might be some of the barriers and what should I do about them?



It is important you find an exercise option that suits your budget. This will ensure a sustainable approach to physical activity as well as reduce any extra stress you may have relating to finances.

  • Opt for the outdoors! It’s free! Try going for a walk or jog in the local park or completing some body weight exercises in the garden.
  • Research cost-effective programs in your local community. Most local councils offer walking groups, tai-chi or yoga programs which are either free or very low cost options.


You may be eligible for a rebate from your Private Health Insurance for any sessions provided by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. This is something to be mindful of when researching suitable providers and locations.

Side Effects of Treatment

Fatigue and Nausea are two big side effects experienced by those undergoing cancer treatment. Research shows that by even engaging in a small amount of structuredphysical activity, these side effects can be lessened and in some case even provide an energy boost. Try and choose a time to exercise which is most comfortable for you. For example, if you are often more fatigued or nauseated in the morning, opt for an afternoon exercise regime.

What sort of programs might suit me?

Many Accredited Exercise Physiologists in the community may run or have access to targeted exercise groups for you to try. Some of these programs may also be low-cost options to make access easier for you and those in a similar position.

Ismini Dandanis is the Director at InForm Health & Exercise in Victoria, where they offers a Breast Cancer Exercise Group which provides support for patients at any stage of treatment or in remission. There is a strong focus on social supports and all individuals have their own individually tailored exercise program. The program is low cost and runs as a maintenance program and therefore assists women who are starting hormone treatment or having reconstructive surgery as well as those who have been recently diagnosed or conversely been in remission for some time.