By: Rika Keck, Medical Exercise Specialist For Women’s Wellness.
It is well known that an exercise program is supportive before, during and after surgery and treatment. Off course it is essential to see it within context of the individual, medical procedures, reaction to meds and energy levels.
Moderation is a big key and it is a great idea to work-out and to ‘work-in’ with quiet, stress reducing modalities such as meditation, Gentle Yoga, Qi Gong or a walk in Nature.
Here are a few points regarding exercise during and post-surgery and/or treatment:
- Strength training will support bone integrity that becomes compromised with chemo and steroids. Discuss this with your physician if lymph nodes are affected in your cancer treatment or lymphodema in the arm is present.
- A moderate/low intensity cardio program will support a healthy heart, circulation and mood – a mild sweat is a good guideline. Do wipe off the sweat so it does not re-enter the body, after all, the skin is an organ of elimination. (While undergoing radiation treatment, do discuss this with your doctor, as there are restrictions.)
- Clothing might present some challenges. Make comfortable and organic cotton choices that allow free movement and airflow.
- Physical therapy, post-therapy exercise will provide ROM (range of motion) as incisions start to heal. You want to avoid restrictions in movement to prevent secondary shoulder, wrist, neck and back problems. The process of regaining full range of motion after surgery does take time.
- Acupuncture on the scares and adhesions is a good idea as scars can disrupt the nervous system. At the same time it will boost immune function and provide stress reduction. It is necessary to wait for healing of the skin.
- Fatigue must be respected – yet a gentle exercise program will actually increase energy and support lymphatic flow.
- Posture exercises: With the physical, emotional and psychological trauma, it is ‘normal’ to pull inwards in a protective manner esp. after surgery. Awareness and gentle exercises that pay attention to good posture will support the physical body and energetic flow between organs and glands.
- Social support and laughter are so important. If possible seek out a fun, nurturing and safe environment. Uplifting music does help too!
- Radiation adversely affects heart and lung health. (I am aware that this is a controversial point.) The bottom line is: Do support your cardiovascular system.
When it is cold outside, we must make sure to get our daily movement. Certainly there is nothing more refreshing and immune – stimulating than taking a brisk walk outside! However, trying to maneuver icy pavements or paths in Central Park can be challenging and this does increase the risk of falling.
I believe in ‘risk assessment’: Exercise regularly and moderately, but in a safe and fun environment.
Basic Facts: Let’s Talk About Exercise, Heart Health & Nutrition!
For bone health, esp. in menopause, it is important to add ‘stress’ on the bones. Walking is great, but it is not enough to facilitate sufficient bone stress and remodeling of bone. Walking does support a healthy cardiovascular system, lymphatic drainage and detoxification – besides burning off those Holiday treats…
Resistance training is essential to support stronger bones, especially if one has a genetically predetermined small frame. It is not about lifting heavy weights ‘a la Schwarzenegger’ and one generally does not ‘bulk up’ easily – a concern I still hear about today. Weight training for healthy bones is about a regular ‘overload’ on the connective tissue. If you carry your own shopping bags twice a week, you are doing your bones (but maybe not your back) a favor!
As a Nutrition and Exercise Specialist, I do stress that bones must be supported with good nutrition and a regular weight – training exercise program. It is also helpful not to live on an adrenaline rush. The hormones, esp. elevated cortisol, will adversely affect the mineral metabolism and bone health.
Acid-blocking medications will affect the absorption of calcium and magnesium from foods. This can result in a calcium deficiency affecting bones and teeth, increasing the risk of fractures and cavities. If you are using acid blocking meds, you are welcome to connect with me to discuss your options.
As we age, our tendons are more at risk, esp. if we have not been exposed to using weights or athletic movements. It is better to err on the side of caution by receiving expert guidance. Schedule a few sessions with a professional to get you going or join an exercise class with a good instructor. (Do your research!!!)
If there are pre-existing and additional physical restrictions e.g. joint concerns or joint replacements or other medical considerations, I would recommend starting up with the advice of an exercise professional. I have some clients, whom I meet for a few sessions to ‘get the ball rolling’.
Exercise movements that are functional and support balance training should be incorporated. Core training, stability and flexibility training must also be part of the program. All will support activities of daily living. As we age, generally it is the lack of flexibility and muscle tissue that can predispose us to a greater risk of injury, falls and decreased function.
Despite all we hear about cancer, it is important to note that heart disease is still the #1 killer of men and women. Certainly, many factors play a role. However, do consider that the heart is a muscle and it needs to be kept strong with regular and continuous exercise.
Heart health requires good nutrition and regular exercise. Various medications will rob nutrients from the heart, brain and body. These nutrients include vitamins such as vitamin A, B, C, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, calcium and CoQ10 and more…All are essential to maintain a healthy heart. If you are on medications, you would want to consider the possibility of medication induced vitamin/mineral deficiency. Chronic stress, living on an adrenaline charge and lack of sleep affects heart health adversely. Exercise is a great stress-reducing modality – but do make sure you rest too and do not over-exercise esp. cardio training!
From a mind body perspective, integration of Yoga or other stress – reducing techniques incl. mediation are terrific.
Pilates is very popular too and it is very helpful for flexibility and reduced joint stress.
What matters most?
Choose an exercise program that is right for you!
Choose an exercise program that suits your needs, is effective and does not create pain. Sure, a little sore muscle here and there after strength work will let you now that you made ‘communication’ – your bones will be happy. What can happen with strength training is ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)’. This happens within 24-48 hrs.
Before starting on an exercise program, do check in with your physician if you are on medications and/or have health concerns. Should you have had surgery, it is best to receive ‘clearance’ from the doc before starting to exercise.
In the meantime, let’s keep walking, healing and smiling!
Rika Keck is a nutrition, fitness women’s wellness consultant and contributor for Breast Cancer Authority Blog
Customized Nutrition, Medical Exercise Specialist and Women’s Wellness
NY Integrated Health