Benefits of Resistance Training in Breast Cancer
In relation to breast cancer, physical exercise is an important element in the reduction of risk factors, mortality, and relapse. The health benefits of physical exercise have been extensively described in health journals, highlighting its positive influence on physical, psychological, cognitive, and social condition, as well as its role in disease prevention and treatment, and improvement of quality of life.
Physical exercise diminishes the sequelae produced by the treatments against breast cancer, such as the loss of joint mobility and muscle strength, pain, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It is usually considered a component of the global treatment of disease; it does not cause adverse events and improves the overall condition of breast cancer survivors.
Studies carried out have identified valuable benefits of Resistance Training for the musculoskeletal system, joint mobility, fatigue, depression, self-image, and quality of life. This is why muscle strength exercises are increasingly being included in training programs for breast cancer survivors
Can Exercise Help Improve Breast Cancer Outcomes?
Studies suggest that physical activity helps people with breast cancer live longer. It reduces the risk of death from breast cancer and other causes.
A 2019 analysis reviewed the results of 24 studies on physical activity and the risk of death in people with breast cancer. It found that over a follow-up period of 2.9 to 12.7 years, people with breast cancer who got 5 – 8 hours of exercise per week were 28% less likely to die from cancer than those who got less exercise.
A 2021 study found that the risk of recurrence was 63% lower in breast cancer survivors who exercised on 2–5 days of the week compared with inactive participants.
Types of Exercise
There are three main types of exercise: aerobic exercise, flexibility exercise, and strength or resistance exercise.
Aerobic exercise is any type of cardiovascular conditioning that works large muscles with rhythmic, repetitive movements. Examples include walking, running, jogging, dancing etc.
Flexibility exercise (also called range-of-motion exercise or stretching) improves muscle elasticity and range of motion for your joints. Examples include stretching, yoga etc.
Strength exercise (also called resistance training) — makes the muscles work harder by adding weight or resistance to a movement. Strength exercises also make bones stronger, improve balance and posture, and boost quality of life by making household chores, day to day living and recreational activities easier and more enjoyable. Strength exercises can also help fix muscle imbalance or weakness after breast cancer surgery.
Breast Cancer & Resistance Training
Resistance Training is especially beneficial to the breast cancer survivor because many times, she is left with muscle imbalances and weaknesses after surgery. For example, if the client has had reconstructive surgery such as Transverse Rectus Abdominus Myocutaneous (TRAM) flap and a muscle has been relocated, it is important to strengthen the surrounding muscles to compensate for the loss. The goal here is to rebuild the strength of the weakened and affected muscles so that daily tasks and enjoyable activities can become possible again.
A journal in National Library of Medicine reports about results and safety of resistance training on breast cancer survivors. Eight trials evaluated aspects of the body composition, six trials reported improvements, and two did not find changes in any of the evaluated variables (muscle mass, mineral bone density, fat mass, or body mass index). Twelve trials reported significant improvement in muscle strength. Six trials assessed aerobic capacity, with two reporting significant improvement and two reporting minor changes.
There was a significant improvement in aspects related to Quality of Life, self-perception, balance, joint range of motion, and fatigue and pain in all evaluated cases. One of the three trials evaluating depression reported a significant improvement. None of the trials reported changes in the participants’ physical activity habits after the conclusion of the training program. Regardless of when the resistance training took place (during/after the breast cancer treatment), Quality of Life (QoL), self-perception, pain, fatigue, body composition, and muscle strength showed significant improvements.
Resistance training also influences the patients’ psychological condition and quality of life
during and after cancer treatment.
The journal mentions in conclusion that considering the timing of the development of the training program, it is suggested that resistance training prior to the administration of breast cancer treatment would help patients address the damage and alterations caused by the treatment, such as the loss of muscle mass, muscle strength, and mobility and thus also affecting health-related QoL, which was better in people who were physically active before diagnosis than in those who were sedentary.
In view of the studies and the data available, it can be emphasized that Resistance Training is safe and that it does not adversely affect the development or worsening of lymphedema, and that it helps improve the Quality of Life (QoL) of patients.
Therefore, Strength Exercise can be considered an additional treatment with which to supplement adjuvant and rehabilitation therapy for breast cancer.
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Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.