Aerobic exercise uses the large muscles in your body in rhythmic, repetitive motions. Examples include walking, jogging, bike riding, and swimming.
Benefits: Aerobic exercise makes your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles work more efficiently, increasing your stamina and endurance. It also boosts your mood, helps you sleep better, and reduces your stress. It can also reduce your risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence), as well as reduce the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
According to Cathy Bryan, M.Ed., American College of Sports Medicine-certified Cancer and Exercise personal trainer, elliptical machines, tennis, rowing and cross-country skiing may be examples that may push the limit toward overloading the arm on the side of your surgery if you’re simultaneously doing another exercise program. “The main thing to remember is doing an exercise program in a way that allows you to gradually increase resistance. Some exercises — tennis or rowing, for example — don’t allow for that. You’re either doing the movement or you’re not. So in the beginning, focus on exercises that allow for gradual build-up in resistance. That’s why weights are a great example — you can start with 1 lb. and build up from there.”
If you’ve had lymph nodes removed, it’s always good idea to schedule some time with a lymphedema specialist (even if you don’t have lymphedema) to assess your arm’s exercise capacity.
If you’ve been diagnosed with lymphedema, you will likely need to wear a compression garment and take other precautions when you exercise. For more information, please visit our Lymphedema and Exercise page.
Start slowly: Before you start, make sure you have clearance from your doctor and surgeon to exercise. To start, try to do some type of aerobic exercise 3 times a week at a light intensity level. Add more days per week (or more time per day) of aerobic exercise staying at a light intensity level. When you’re just starting out, adding more time is more important than upping the intensity. When you feel ready, up the intensity slightly. You may not be able to keep the same intensity every day. That’s OK. Any aerobic activity you do is better than none. Some days you may be able to up the intensity even more. The important thing is to stick with it.
Exercise intensity can be measured two ways:
how you feel, or perceived exertion (one example is to use a scale of 1-10, with 1 being sitting on the couch and 10 being the absolute most that you can do)
heart rate (subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate — the highest number of times your heart can contract in 1 minute)
Light exercise intensity: no changes in breathing — you can easily carry on a conversation or sing; 40% to 50% of your maximum heart rate.
Moderate exercise intensity: your breathing gets faster, but you’re not out of breath — you can carry on a conversation but can’t sing; 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate.
Vigorous exercise intensity: your breathing is deep and fast and you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath; 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
— Last updated on March 25, 2022, 6:55 PM