‘I Like to Move It’: How Exercise Helped Me Fight Fatigue and Feel Better After Breast Cancer


I was feeling fatigued after undergoing breast cancer treatment, but once I started walking multiple times a week, I noticed that I felt much better.

A breast cancer diagnosis can cause a person to slow down and reevaluate life. That’s what happened to me.

I’d always been a fairly healthy person until cancer rocked my world. Though I didn’t understand what caused my disease, I did my best to fight my way through it.

Then, after treatment was over, I didn’t have the stamina I’d once had. I was tired all the time. I knew part of that was due to healthy cells that had been zapped along with cancerous ones during radiation therapy. The doctor said it would take time to regain my strength and she was right.

Months after completing treatment, I still didn’t feel like myself. I did my best to trudge through each day and it took great effort. I was ashamed to admit to family and friends I didn’t feel like doing much. They did their best to understand and didn’t push, but I knew something had to change. I didn’t like feeling lethargic; it wasn’t me.

One day, when my young granddaughter was visiting, I had an epiphany. We were sitting in the living room watching an animated film, “Madagascar.” It was a cute movie filled with bright colors, cute animals and catchy music. My granddaughter loves music, and when one particular song began to play, she jumped up and started dancing. I watched intently as this little energetic 8-year-old got her groove on. The song, “I like to Move It,” was definitely a party song encouraging listeners to shake different parts of their bodies to the eclectic beat along with the animals on the screen.

As she giggled to the tune and kept dancing, I found myself tapping my foot to the beat. The music was hypnotic. That’s when I wondered if music might be the key to getting me back on track physically.

My favorite form of exercise had always been walking. It was easy to do, and I could do it anywhere. It was low impact, and I could easily set the pace, but walking outdoors was out of the question during the middle of our summer heat wave. Temperatures soared into the triple digits. What to do? I couldn’t wait until fall. I had to start now. I begged my husband for a treadmill. Promising to use it at least three times a week, we purchased a nice machine and had it delivered from the sporting goods store.

When the machine arrived, I was both excited and nervous. I didn’t know where to begin. I’d been reading a book on fitness for breast cancer survivors and wanted to put their suggestions to work in my life, but my get up and go was gone. That’s when I remembered my granddaughter’s impetus and pulled up Spotify on my phone. I selected some upbeat songs creating a small playlist, then plugged in the treadmill. The book I’d been reading mentioned exercise could build energy, and I definitely needed that. It also said those who exercised often felt less stress and anxiety. That would be a huge plus.

Since I hadn’t walked in a while, I started out slow. For the first five minutes on the treadmill, I kept the speed under two miles per hour to give my body a chance to warm up. I won’t lie. It took a great deal of effort to put one foot in front of the other, but I did it, and after my warm-up was complete, I bumped up the speed to 2.3 mph and began walking faster.

While walking, I monitored my heart rate using the machine’s built-in monitor. As my heart rate neared 100 beats per minute, I began to feel like I was pushing a bit too hard, too fast, so I backed off the speed to 2.1 mph and felt more in control. I managed to walk at that speed for 30 minutes before stopping.

The music was a definite help and I decided I needed a better playlist. Making a mental note to text my daughter later for help with that, I disembarked from the treadmill and smiled at my effort.

I noticed I felt more energetic after the initial exercise session. On my phone, I scheduled a reminder to walk every morning for at least half an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It was a small start, but one I felt I could maintain.

I’ve done a good bit of research on walking programs since my initial session and recommendations I’ve found online contain some good tips I’d like to share that helped me. But of course, everyone is different and should talk with their providers before starting a new exercise regimen.

Frequency: Four times a week as a minimum and six times a week as a maximum

Heart rate goal: 100-120 beats per minute without breathlessness or fatigue

Duration: Warm up for five minutes, then increase the rate gradually to 30 minutes per session as tolerated.

Talk test: Use the talk test to make sure you’re not working out too strenuously. If you can speak in sentences without feeling out of breath, you’re OK but if you start to feel winded, reduce the exercise level.

Hydration: Drink a full glass of water before exercising and a full glass afterward.

Clothing: Wear comfortable attire with well-fitting shoes.

Medical clearance: Before starting any exercise program, always check with your doctor for guidance. Some chemotherapy treatments can lower blood counts causing extreme weakness. Don’t exercise if you’re nauseated, vomiting, have an irregular heartbeat, feel dizzy or faint, have chest, jaw or arm pain.

Moving your body is good exercise, whether you’re walking or doing another type activity you enjoy. Give yourself the gift of better health, do it on your terms, but do it. And if you need a good motivational song to get started, Madagascar’s got you covered.

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