A study published in the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine weight training can help minimize the effects of lymphedema, a build up of fluids that causes painful swelling in the arms and/or hands. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that regular weight training exercises actually helped minimize this painful swelling and allowed women to cope better with the ramifications from radiation therapy and the removal of lymph nodes.

The findings of this study serve to counter the prevailing wisdom that breast cancer survivors should avoid performing any activity that involves lifting with the affected arm, and even avoid activities like golf and tennis.

Over the course of 13-weeks 141 breast cancer survivors participated in weight training classes two times per week, for 90-minute sessions.  In addition to lifting weights the subjects wore a custom-fitted compression garment – similar to a tight Under Armor shirt – and followed a progressive program that added weight and repetitions.  The subjects continued to exercise on their own for the next 39 weeks.

After a year the researchers found that the women who lifted weights suffered 50% fewer lymphedema flare-ups, reported fewer symptoms and increased their strength.  In addition, the group of women who lifted weights made 60% fewer visits to doctors and physical therapist for lymphedema-related issues.

It’s important to note that the researchers advise breast cancer survivors to seek out the guidance from certified personal trainers and fitness professionals, follow a program that starts slow and progresses gradually and wear a properly fitting compression garment while exercising.

The researchers also looked at whether weight training can prevent a first incidence of lymphedema and will release the results of this part of the study in the near future.

This is yet another feather in the cap of weight training and exercise.  As time goes on, it is clear that weight training and exercise in general, are the best way to insure good health.  From all of the research that has been done on the subject, there is not a segment of the population, young or old, fit or infirm that will not benefit from participating in a regular exercise program and exercise will do more for health and well being than any other intervention, including diet.


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