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Originally published Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 7:45 AM

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The benefits of exercise for breast-cancer survivors

Exercise may help decrease your risk of a recurrence of breast cancer, and it makes you feel better, too.

Special to the Seattle Times

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Exercise is an effective way to lower your risk of developing most diseases, including breast cancer. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, are going through treatment or are in recovery, it is that much more important to continue to care for your health.

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind after diagnosis, but the more fit you are, the easier it is to fight off future illness. Regular exercise may reduce the risk of breast-cancer recurrence and exercise undoubtedly works to minimize weight gain after breast-cancer treatment (excessive weight gain can increase the risk of your breast cancer returning).

Survivors who exercise also feel immediate benefits, such as more energy and a reduction in anxiety and depression.

Exercise also helps you sleep better. Don't expect too much too soon, however, advises Carol Dunlop, owner of Optimum Body Sculpting and a breast-cancer survivor.

Dunlop was diagnosed in July 2011, underwent surgery in August 2011 and is in remission.

"Take it down a notch from what you were used to doing, then build back up as you are ready," she says.

If your energy levels are low, don't get discouraged: Women can benefit from even moderate activity. You don't have to go to the gym every day, and this is probably not the time to train for a marathon, but a quick walk will boost endorphin levels and make you feel better.

Many survivors find giving back helps them stay motivated. If healthy enough, run or walk a race to raise money for breast-cancer research.

As far as strength training, conventional wisdom warned against lifting more that 10 pounds if lymph-node removal to avoid lymphedema was a part of your breast-cancer surgery. But new research shows that a supervised program of weight lifting following lymph-node removal is not only safe but beneficial.

"You know the old saying, 'if you don't use it, you lose it?' Well, it's doubly true after diagnosis," says Dunlop.

Speak with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, and consider finding a trainer who works with breast-cancer patients.

Arguably the most important benefit of exercise during recovery is a boost in confidence. Exercise helps to clear your mind, focus inward and find strength. Cancer can make you feel out of control, and fitness is one aspect of your health where you have control.

Kelly Turner: kellyturnerfitness@gmail.com. Turner is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer and fitness writer: www.KellyTurnerFitness.com. On Twitter @KellyTurnerFit.

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