Josephine was excited. She had completed her breast cancer treatments and was ready to get on with the rest of her life. She was worried about lymphedema. But, after reading the blog post on lymphedema risk reduction, Josephine knows that she can reduce the risk of developing lymphedema after treatment for breast cancer. She can directly affect whether she develops lymphedema. After surgery, the biggest risk factors for lymphedema are obesity and inflammation. Josephine needs to keep her Body Mass Index below 25 and she needs to avoid infection and sunburns of her arm and chest. And the next best thing is to exercise. Exercise can reduce the risk of lymphedema. Exercise can lessen the pain and swelling from lymphedema. And exercise can sometimes even put lymphedema into remission. Josephine had a consultation with a lymphedema specialist and continues to exercise under the guidance of her lymphedema specialist. The key to success: Take It Slow.
Here are the five exercise that Josephine does and that you can do to reduce your risk of lymphedema.
- Deep Breathing
- Remedial Exercise to shrink the swollen arm (if you already have lymphedema)
- Stretching and Flexibility
- Resistance and Weight-Lifting
- Aerobic Conditioning
Depp breathing helps return blood to the heart and helps return lymph fluid to the veins by causing a negative pressure in the chest, which draws blood and lymph fluid into the chest and the heart. The less blood and fluid in the arm, the less the risk of lymphedema and the less are the symptoms from lymphedema.
If you already have lymphedema, a trained physical therapist can help you with exercises to reduce the amount of lymphedema in your arm before proceeding with an exercise program designed to reduce the risk of lymphedema recurrence. These exercise, while you are able to do them at home, should be done with the guidance of a trained lymphedema specialist.
Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching is unbelievably good for your body and soul. Joints hurt less and you can move more freely. Movement can be a key to treating and preventing lymphedema and by adding stretching and flexibility exercises to your daily routine, you can reduce the pain and swelling associated with lymphedema. The anti-estrogen pills, such as tamoxifen and anastrazole, that women take to treat breast cancer, can cause joint pains and discomforts. Likewise, age can stiffen our joints. Stretching exercises and flexibility can lessen the pain and discomfort associated with lymphedema, cancer treatments and aging. Two fun ways to formally do stretching exercises are the Dragon Boat Races and fly fishing with Casting for Recovery.
Resistance and Weight Lifting
Resistance and Weight lifting exercises are probably the single best thing you can do, although you should do all five of these exercises. Using your muscles causes blood and lymph to return to leave the limb and return to the heart, which will lead to less symptoms from lymphedema. Weight lifting will strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of hip fractures, a known cause of pain and even death among elderly women. Your quality of life will be much improved if you do resistance training as you will feel stronger. Feeling stronger will enable better play time with your grandkids, while greater mobility will give you more opportunities to do fun things in life.
Get your heart rate up, baby! Who feels tired after walking the mall? Or playing with grandkids? Or just going out for dinner? Aerobic conditioning, i.e. power walking or swimming or water aerobics, will make you heart more powerful. You will have less fatigue and more fun in life. But you will also encourage the return of blood and lymph from your arms to your heart. This will reduce the risk of lymphedema and lessens the symptoms. And all you have to do is take a power walk to get your heart rate up. You do not need a heart rate monitor. You just need to work at breathing. You do not need to be short of breath, you just need to realize that you are breathing a little harder. And for only 30 minutes five times per week. Exercise can make all the difference in the world. You can go from a life of aches and pains to a life of freedom and fun. And doing exercises in a group format will introduce you to more friends and even more fun times. Always discuss with your doctor and your surgeon when it is OK to start a program. And I would encourage discussing with a lymphedema specialist or trainer prior to initiating a program. Keep your exercise up and your weight down.