Tag: exercise for lymphedema

Ah – To Dance, To Feel the Joy

Dance is fun, brings great joy not only to the participant but also those watching.  It can be an awesome workout with low impact – great for all ages.

Evidence the age range (10 – 78) of the particpants in this Flash Mob Dance I choreographed for our Wellspring Calgary fundraiser ‘Toupee For A Day’.  It was such a fun project.  Everyone had a great time, definitely wanted to do it more than once, and as you can see from the crowd watching, shared their joy and love of dance.

How Does Exercise Affect Lymphedema?

Exercise plays a key role in both reducing the risk of lymphedema as well as the management of lymphedema. 

Lymphedema is caused by an interruption or restriction in the flow of lymph fluid following surgery.  Most people are aware of arm lymphedema caused by breast cancer surgery, but leg lymphedema can be a side effect of prostate or abdominal surgeries.   Torso lymphedema can happen from neck and throat surgeries.

There are several ways to reduce the risk of lymphedema, however, exercise for lymphedema is extremely helpful and well documented by research. 

Here are some important things to remember when exercising:

  • Open the lymphatic system first.  The lymphatic drains are located by your throat and will allow the flow of lymph fluid which will increase with the exercise.  The Healthy-Steps program (formerly The Lebed Method) has a wonderful Lymphatic Opening exercise and program for those who may be at risk for lymphedema.
  • Make sure the exercise movements are slow to medium speed and smooth flowing versus jerky.  After surgery, especially if lymph nodes have been removed, the lymphatic transport system will be compromised and could become congested if the flow of lymph fluid is too fast.  Think of a superhighway where the traffic is rerouted from four lanes to one lane.
  • Wear proper compression garments which are designed to assist the flow of lymph fluid (i.e. lymphedema sleeve) during exercise if you already have lymphedema.  This includes the gauntlet (glove) to ensure the build up of fluid does not travel to the hand.

The Benefits of Fitness During Cancer Treatment

Physical fitness is probably the last thing you might thinks of when diagnosed with cancer.  Yet it is critically important to stay fit for a number of reasons, because exercise –

  • Combats fatigue and increases energy.
  • Increases the amount of oxygen in your system.  Cancer does not fare well in an oxygenated environment.
  • Exercise for lymphedema reduces this risk by keeping the flow of lymph fluid moving through your body.
  • Stretchs out scar tissue caused by surgery and increase the range of motion in joints that might be affected by radiation.
  • Increases a sense of self-esteem and keeps depression at bay – often a side effect of cancer treatment.
  • Promotes relaxation and sleep – very important and sometimes difficult states to maintain.

Already I think you are getting the message.  Whatever your choice of exercise – walking, yoga, pilates, cycling, tai chi – get moving, make new friends and create a fun environment for  yourself.  It will go a long way to making the cancer journey easier.

Cold Weather and Exercise Tips for Cancer Patients

It is vital that exercise be part of your daily routine if you are going through cancer treatment.  You may not feel like doing anything – fatigue is often the issue – but you will feel better and have more energy rather than less if you make the effort.

Simple walking, fresh air, and being in nature are all inexpensive ways to get your daily exercise.  Swinging those arms is great exercise for lymphedema as well as the fact that is helps reduce the risk of getting lymphedema.

However, cold weather experienced by those who live in northern climates often makes being outside not an option.  What options are there then?

  1. Go for walk inside in a shopping mall.  Find a friend to go with – helps with motivation, plus you can stop and enjoy a coffee or whatever afterwards.
  2. Head to the YWCA or leisure center and use their exercise equipment (i.e. treadmill, bike, etc.) or use at-home exercise equipment if you have one.
  3. Exercise along with a DVD.  There are many choices (Yoga, Tai Chi, Aerobics).  Find one that works for you.
  4. Go for a swim at an indoor pool and dream of summer days.

Exercise has been proven by research to not only be beneficial while you are going through cancer treatment.  Exercise is also beneficial in reducing the risk of getting cancer in the first place.  Besides, being healthy and fit makes life just that much more enjoyable.  You will have more energy, feel better about how look, and work off stress.  It’s a win-win.

Wear a Compression Sleeve When Flying

Women who have lymphedema or have had lymph nodes removed as a result of breast cancer treatment need to wear compression sleeves when flying. The outside pressure when flying fluctuates wildly and can cause inefficient lymph flow. Inefficient flow can lead to fluid build up and swelling.

Another reason wearing compression sleeves is imperative is the fact that flying is a sedentary activity. Limited muscle movement also diminishes lymph flow. Overexertion, such as lifting heavy bags, after sitting for so long can cause an inflammatory response, again leading to swelling. In addition to wearing compression sleeves, try to do subtle stretches and seat exercises to increase lymph flow and decrease the likelihood of blood clots forming.

Tai Chi for Cancer Patients

Moving meditation is often how tai chi is described.  For those who have problems sitting still, tai chi is a wonderful option for meditation.  It focuses the mind using the body as a breathing organism, moving chi through the pathways of mind, body and spirit.

Tai chi can be done anywhere – inside, outside, while travelling, at home, with a group.  Creating a time for daily practise reaps huge benefits, especially at a time such as cancer when stress is high.  Streaming energy (chi) through the body helps combat the fatigue and depression often associate with cancer treatment.

Due to the flowing and gentle nature of tai chi, it is also a wonderful exercise for lymphedema – both as risk reduction and management.  Lymphedema is often a side effect of cancer treatment, especially for breast cancer patients.  Lymphedema can also occur in lower extremeties due to prostate, colon, etc. surgeries and treatment.

Tai Chi: Healing Movements

Slow, graceful moves, fluid and contemplative, stretching body, mind and spirit – that’s tai chi.  I recall it well.  Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had been taking Tai Chi classes.  We were a wonderful group of individuals, learning together and sharing our stories during our tea break.  It was exercise, learning and social all at the same time.

As I like to move, tai chi became my moving mediation during cancer treatment.  The slow movements helped my body open up, develop strength and flexibility, but more importantly tai chi quieted my mind and helped me find my inner place for healing.  The movements also became preventive exercise for lymphedema as I could feel the lymph moving, especially after radiation.

If you are not fortunate to have a group in your area, consider a DVD to follow and learn the moves at home.  Also excellent for practising at home between classes.

Breast Cancer: Lymphedema Prevention Tips

I keep hearing this and it makes me upset.  The issue of not knowing that moving your arm and shoulder – doing the exercises – as soon as the drain is out reduces the risk of getting lymphedema as well as frozen shoulder.  Most hospitals will advise you of exercise for lymphedema but some do not or the message is not heard when you are still in shock. 

Here are a few exercises you can do:

  1. Walking up the wall – standing facing the wall, walk your fingers up the wall and extend the arm as far as you can without pain.
  2. Arm circles – you can do these both standing and leaning over.  These arm circles help the flow of lymph fluid and keep the shoulder flexible.
  3. Head tilts – a) chin to chest and up to upright; b) tilt ear to shoulder, and c) head roll – make a smile on your chest with your chin making sure not to take the head back.  These movements open up the lymph system to drain the lymph fluid.


These are just a few of the exercises, but they are so important to do daily.  Look for exercise classes in your area that understand lymphedema and the issues around breast cancer.  The Healthy-Steps™ program (formerly known as The Lebed Method) is excellent if there is one in your area.

Exercise Beneficial for Cancer Healing

There have been many studies on the benefits of exercise for lymphdema and cancer rehabilitation.  Exercise get the heart rate up and in doing so, it moves oxygen into the body.  Cancer does not thrive in oxygen.

Flexibility is important, especially after cancer surgeries.  Gentle movements minimize the build up of scar tissue, decrease the risk of frozen shoulder (i.e. breast cancer), and reduce the risk of lymphedema (both upper and lower extremities) by improving the flow of lymph fluid.

Plus, exercise to music and being part of a group is fun.  There can be lots of laughter at a time when life is threatening.  Additional benefits are improved self-esteem, conditioning, and more energy.  There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by participating.

Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Cancer?

Research is now indicating that exercise can reduce your risk of cancer.

With the advent of TV, computers, and a more sedentary lifestyle, getting exercise has become a planned activity.  Gone are the days when physical activity was a part of daily life.  So, how does one get active again?  Here are some easy ways to get started.

  1. Walk – get out the door and walk around your block.  Find a park and enjoy the trails.  Start with 10 minutes at a reasonable pace.  Build up until you can walk 30 minutes, then one hour.
  2. Dance – go dancing – find a club or ballroom class or join a dance exercise class at a local community hall.  Or just turn on the music and dance at home.  Try it with your kids.
  3. Cycle – get a bike and instead of taking the car to the store, ride your bike.  Find a partner or group of friends and go for a bike hike.
  4. Buddy Up – it is easier to stick to a program with a buddy.  On the days when you don’t feel motivated, a partner will get you going.  Plus, it’s more fun.

Start your exercise program today.  For those who have had cancer surgery, especially breast cancer, one of the side effects is lymphedema.  There is exercise for lymphedema that will reduce the risk – and the movements will be safe and fun for all individuals because they are designed from a safety and therapeutic perspective.