Jennifer Garner's Trainer Released a Free Exercise Series for People Recovering from a Mastectomy

Learn more about the 12-week program and what experts say about exercising after cancer treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the U.S., and more than 100,000 women in the U.S. undergo some form of mastectomy for the surgical treatment of breast cancer each year. If you or someone you know is one of those women, you may be thinking about the road to recovery post-mastectomy and how exercise can be a part of that plan. (Read more: 11 Signs of Breast Cancer Everyone Should Know About)

Beth Nicely, trainer to celebrities such as Jennifer Garner and Nicole Kidman, teamed up with physical therapist Dani Luna, D.P.T., to create an exercise series for people recovering from mastectomy surgery on her fitness platform, The Limit. The 12-week program is now available for free online for anyone who wants to try it.

A mastectomy is a breast cancer surgery that involves removing the breast, according to the American Cancer Society. Recovery time varies depending on the exact procedures completed and if the breast or breasts were reconstructed. For some patients, it may take just four weeks to return to normal activities; for others, it could take months to reach full activity capacity. The Limit's program is appropriate for patients throughout their entire recovery from mastectomy surgery and other breast surgeries, such as lumpectomies, according to Nicely.

Getty Images / The Limit

Nicely, who is a NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and a certified pre/postnatal specialist based in New York City, has worked with cancer survivors who have gone through mastectomies, she tells Shape. Typically, she likes to research how to help her clients while they recover from an injury or medical procedure. When she looked into guidance for women who've recently undergone a mastectomy, Nicely was only able to find information designed for the first six weeks following surgery on the internet. Suggestions for what to do after that was lacking.

So, Nicely and Luna set out to provide a better resource. "We wanted it to be accessible to everyone," says Nicely, noting that the program will be available for the foreseeable future on The Limit's website. Users can enter the code "SURVIVOR" to gain free access to the series for the 12-week duration.

Courtesy of The Limit

The course is designed for patients to begin between three and seven days post-op and is meant for all levels — regardless of someone's personal level of fitness before surgery. Over the course of 12 weeks, each session focuses on exercises to help increase blood flow, improve range of motion, regain mobility, and strengthen the body. The videos include four breast cancer survivors who've all had mastectomies doing the exercises alongside Nicely.

The workouts are quite gentle and progress toward a full 30-minute class and working up to holding a plank, says Nicely. The program also takes into special consideration the vast differences in surgery experiences and accounts for different reconstructive elements, post-surgical drains, implant placement, and other factors.

"Any exercise after cancer can be helpful," Tara Sanft, M.D., associate professor of medicine (medical oncology) at the Yale Cancer Center, who leads research into the impact of exercise on cancer treatment and outcomes, tells Shape. "It can help recover from surgery, [and] it can help with side effects from surgery." Exercise can help with sleep quality, anxiety, and energy levels, she explains.

Other experts agree. "It's actually crucial to be able to exercise after mastectomy surgery, as long as those exercises [and] those stretches are prescribed by somebody who has experience working with individuals who've had mastectomy surgery," says Scott Capozza, P.T., M.S.P.T., a board-certified specialist in oncologic physical therapy who works for Yale New Haven Hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital. "You don't want to do too much too soon, but you don't want to be completely immobilized," he adds.

Like many procedures, breast surgeries vary, and as a result, so does an individual's recuperation length. "If somebody has a lumpectomy [a breast-conserving surgery], they'll be able to return to activity faster," says Capozza. "But if somebody has a bilateral mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction, that's going to take some more time to heal."

First and foremost, it's important to start exercising in a safe way, says Dr. Sanft, emphasizing that patients should consult with their care team and surgeon when considering steps to take during recovery. "I think the best thing to do would be to bring this [exercise program] to your healthcare team's attention and say, 'I've been thinking about this and I wanted to make sure that the team agrees with this,'" she advises.

Capozza and Nicely echo this sentiment. "Make sure you have permission from your physician prior to physical activity," notes Nicely in a release about her program.

If you or someone you know is looking for a post-mastectomy exercise plan, The Limit's 12-week recovery program may be worth checking out (with doctor's approval, of course).

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