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And Now I have to Exercise

April 6, 2009
by Sami Papacek-Reis


For so many women that go through breast cancer, they are both mentally and physically exhausted when they get through the course of treatment. The endless doctor's appointments, side effects from chemo and radiation, hormonal therapy and surgical recovery can leave even the most energetic individual wiped out. And now we add exercise!?

For many women this can be just one more thing that not only do they "hate" to do, it is simply exhausting. However, the benefits of exercise are proven for survivors as a way to reduce the chances of recurrence.

In a JAMA (Journal of American Medical Journal) article published in 2005, researchers looked at exercise and how it improved survival.  Following is a summary of the results.

The researchers gave each activity a MET (metabolic equivalent task) score. The MET score showed how much energy was used for each hour of activity. For example, walking at an average pace has a MET score of 3, and running has a MET score of 12. The researchers calculated total MET hours per week for each woman's activities. For example, if a woman walked at an average pace for 4 hours a week, she had 12 MET hours (4 hours x walking MET score of 3).

Results: The women who exercised more than three MET hours each week reduced their relative risk of recurrence (the breast cancer coming back), compared to women who exercised less. Women who exercised more than three MET hours a week also improved survival (reduced the relative risk of dying from breast cancer), compared to women who exercised less.

Relative risk is the number that tells you how much something you do, like exercising, might change your risk, compared to your risk without exercising. The table shows how many MET hours a week were associated with different reductions in women's relative risk of the cancer coming back and improvement in survival:

Number of MET hours a week

Number of women who exercised this much

Reduction in relative risk of cancer coming back

Relative Improvement in survival

3.0 to 8.9




9.0 to 14.9




15.0 to 23.9




24.0 or more





So get moving! Start with 10-15 minutes at a time and work up to 30 minutes per day as part of a regular exercise routine. You will want to feel "breathy" as you are exercising but be able to sustain your activity for at least 10-15 minutes.

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