Body Composition and Breast Cancer

pink ribbon exercise cancer exercise training institute

Did you know that it is well established that Body Fat Poses a Major Risk for Breast Cancer and severity of lymphedema?  Health-fitness professionals can play a huge role in reducing breast cancer risk and the debilitating effects of lymphedema.

According to the information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the major risk factors for developing breast cancer is “being overweight or obese after menopause.” In 2011-2014, middle-aged Americans (ages 40-59) had the highest obesity rate of any age group at 41.0 percent, followed by seniors (ages 60 and older) at 38.5 percent, and then young adults (ages 20-39) at 34.3 percent. This may mean that a large percentage of the population has an unidentified risk of developing breast cancer.

If we focus just  on the senior group, 60 and older, it is safe to say that they should also be concerned with heart disease, diabetes, other cancers, high cholesterol and more. For those who have already been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and have had lymph nodes removed or irradiated, the extra adipose tissue can also increase the risk and severity of lymphedema. 

As a society, it is critical that we recognize the risks associated with obesity and work towards a healthier lifestyle. Exercise alone will not address the problem. I think its’ safe to say that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. So how do we get the population at large to begin to make changes in their daily habits? It starts with making one simple change in their routine. I encourage my clients to start by eliminating anything white; sugar, flour, potatoes, pasta, and rice. These will spike insulin production and most-likely get stored as fat in the underactive population. This may be daunting to someone whose diet is composed of 70% simple carbohydrates. In that case I may encourage them to begin with one meal, then two, and so on and so on. Even fast-food restaurants now have relatively healthy choices for those who must get their nourishment on the run. While I would discourage people from stepping foot in a McDonalds or Burger King, if there is no other choice, order a grilled chicken sandwich or salad.

The next step is to get moving. I have a friend who weighs in excess of 400 pounds and is wheelchair bound. She is not in a position to cook for herself so she grabs whatever snack is available to her. She can not get up and move around so she is completely sedentary. In her case we decided to add high quality protein shakes to her repertoire. It is easy for her to make them, they are delicious, satisfying, and provide her with the nutrition her body is yearning for. I have her doing exercises for her arms, lifting herself out of the wheelchair and lowering herself backdown, as well as leg exercises and marching in the wheelchair. She finally feels a sense of empowerment and control over her body that she claims she lost long ago.

Having been a trainer for over 26 years, as well as a cancer survivor who has struggled with her weight for decades, I understand the physiology as well as the psychology behind eating addiction, dieting addiction, eating disorders, and “giving up.” We must begin with baby steps. If we set goals too high, we set ourselves and our clients up for failure. The person who walks for five minutes a day is still burning more calories than the person sitting on the couch watching tv. Encourage your friends and family to make simple changes that cumulatively will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Be patient with yourself and others on the weight loss and fitness journey. It’s okay to have a cheat day if it’s only once a week, or every other week. Keep a journal of food and exercise. Sometimes we don’t even realize the amount or type of food we put into our mouths throughout the day.

Praise goes a long way both with yourself and others. Take note of the small successes as well as the large ones. Know that every day you /they are one step closer to a healthier disease-free lifestyle.

Andrea Leonard graduated from the University of MD in 1990 and went on to get certified as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist by The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She has been certified as a personal trainer by The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and as a Special Populations Expert by The Cooper Institute. She is also a continuing education provider for NSCA, NASM, ACE, and AFAA. Andrea is part of the Hedstrom Fitness/BOSU® Development team and the Chairperson for the Medical Fitness Network Advisory Board. She makes herself available as a volunteer mentor for other cancer patients through Immerman Angels.

Andrea is a 34-year year cancer survivor and has/had twenty one first-degree relatives diagnosed with cancer. In 2015 she lost her father, Morton, to complications of bladder and prostate cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome.

At the age of eighteen, Andrea was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a complete thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment. It was through her own personal struggles that Andrea decided to become a personal trainer. She wanted to be able to help others, like herself, who struggled with the same issues of weight gain and poor self-esteem following cancer surgery and treatment.

Andrea began training in 1992 and worked at the National Capital YMCA in Washington, D.C. She quickly worked her way up to Director of Personal Training and ran the department for several years. While working at the YMCA, Andrea started Leading Edge Fitness and later, The Cancer Exercise Training Institute. While training the “movers and shakers” on Capitol Hill, Andrea’s mom was diagnosed, for the second time, with breast cancer. She watched her mother struggle through the trauma of multiple surgeries, reconstruction, a frozen shoulder, and addiction to narcotics in order to cope with the pain associated with her surgeries. Inspired by her mother, Andrea, along with a medical advisory board from Washington D.C.’s premier medical centers, set out to write “Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors.” The goal was to help the millions of men and women, like her mother, to gain back their strength, range of motion, and self-esteem (among other things), following breast cancer surgery and treatment. The book was published by Harvard Common Press in 2000.

Realizing that she is limited to helping a certain number of clients per week, Andrea developed the Cancer Exercise Specialist™ and Breast Cancer Recovery BOSU® Specialist™ Advanced Qualifications for health and fitness professionals. Through these programs she has been able to pass on her wealth of knowledge, and enable health and fitness professionals around the world, to work safely and confidently with cancer patients.

Andrea has presented the Cancer Exercise Specialist Workshop across the U.S. and Canada and has been a guest speaker at Medical Fitness Tour, IDEA World, CPTN Personal Trainer Summit, IRHSA, TSI Summit, Medical Fitness Association Conference, Keiser Permanente Thriving with Cancer Conference, Winona State University – Survivors Unite, McHenry Community College, New York Institute of Technology, OHSU School of Nursing, Edwards Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital, Suburban/Johns’ Hopkins, Mennonite Cancer Foundation, South Georgia Medical Center, Cary Medical Center Lynchburg General Hospital, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Sibley Hospital, Memorial Hermann, Sandford Health System, Avera McKennan Prairie Cancer Center, Baptist Hospital East, Patricia Neal Rehab. Center, St. Mary’s, Baptist Health System, and Fort Bliss Army Installation.

Andrea has written 14 books on the subject of cancer and exercise and has contributed to PFP Magazine, NOU Magazine, US News and World Report, Club Solutions Magazine, Bethesda Today, Capital Gazette, NASM’s Training Edge Magazine, Lake Oswego Review, Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, The Tidings inHealthOhio Blog and News, Capital Style, The Examiner, The Washington Post, Dallas Morning News,, SpecialFit, and has appeared in countless videos including the Heartflex Breast Cancer Recovery video and been a regular fitness expert on AMNW.

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