A recent study found that weightlifting and resistance training may be a viable option to mitigate the risk and progression of lymphedema.
Though stigmatized for a long time, more women are finally starting to come into the world of weightlifting, which offers numerous health benefits – especially for survivors of breast cancer.
Researchers at Florida State University looked at 27 women who finished primary breast cancer treatment. These women took part in a supervised exercise program that consisted of resistance training twice a week for six months to see what kind of effect this type of exercise would have on lymphedema.
“There were only a couple of ladies who had some swelling in their arms,” Lynn B. Panton, Ph.D., FACSM Professor Department of Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences at FSU and author on the study, said in an interview with CURE. “In some ladies, it showed that there was a decrease in the swelling.”
The full-body regimen included various machine-based exercises of two sets of eight to 12 repetitions. When a participant used the same weight for 12 repetitions two sessions in a row, she would move on to a heavier weight. Arm circumference was measured at baseline and then every two weeks throughout the study.
At the start of the study, three women had pre-existing lymphedema and two of them wore a prescribed compression sleeve to every workout session. No signs of exacerbation were found in all three of the women, and no participant experienced any lymphedema-related adverse events.
Panton noted that some of the women were apprehensive about starting an exercise that included weight training. Not only is there a stigma around women lifting weights – especially for older patients – but doctors also caution patients not to do any upper body exercise for six to eight weeks after surgery.
“But then nobody really said, ‘OK, now you’re free to do whatever exercise,’ and a lot of the time, these ladies are scared to do something with their upper body,” Panton said. “And still, there is a stigma for a lot of women with strength training. I wish they would all do it because it’s so beneficial.”