Breast cancer patients often are warned that lifting heavy bags, children or other objects could exacerbate postsurgical lymphedema (persistent swelling due to the accumulation of lymph fluid) in the arm and hand. However, a recent study challenges that.

Study participants included two groups of breast cancer survivors with lymphedema. Women in the control group were asked not to change their exercise habits. The other women received 13 weeks of twice-weekly, 90-minute sessions of group instruction that included stretching, cardio warm-up, abdominal and back exercises, plus weight lifting exercises (such as chest presses, bicep curls, seated row and leg presses), beginning with little or no resistance...then they continued twice-weekly unsupervised exercise for 39 more weeks.

Results: Compared with the control group, women in the weight-lifting group reported greater improvement in lymphedema symptoms (swelling, discomfort, impaired arm function)... and were less than half as likely to experience worsening of their lymphedema.

Patients with lymphedema: Talk to your doctor about weight lifting... learn proper technique from a certified fitness professional... increase weight slowly...wear a compression sleeve during workouts.

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