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Diet and exercise

Surviving breast cancer moves you into a new place where you want to maximize your ability to prevent cancer recurrence while simultaneously optimizing your ability to prevent other chronic diseases such as osteoperosis, obesity, diabetes, hyper- tension, high cholesterol, alcohol abuse, and heart disease.  A state of Total health is the aim as you move into a new normal following treatment.

The four pillars of total health are identified as Healthy Eating, Maintaining a Healthy Weight, Active Living and Emotional Resilience. By following this total health care strategy you are choosing to have a better chance at survival and wellness.

Healthy eating

Research has shown that making simple changes to your diet can reduce your risk of recurrence and chronic disease. Some of these changes would include the following:

  • Eating whole-foods,
  • Eating a plant-based diet including at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Eating legumes, and whole grains
  • Limiting consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt.
  • Avoiding calorie-dense foods, which include sugary drinks.
  • Limiting consumption of red meats (beef, pork, and lamb).
  • Avoiding all processed meats.

There is evidence to suggest that diets high in red meat (particularly processed meats such as salami or ham) can increase the risk of developing cancer. Avoid eating too much processed meat. If you do like to eat red meat stick to small serves of lean meat and limit this to three to four times a week. Include more chicken and fish into other meals or opt for more vegetarian meals.

What you eat has a direct influence on your body weight, which in turn can affect your risk of developing cancer.  Being obese or overweight does increase your risk of developing cancer. It is important to balance the food you eat with the amount of energy you expend each day.

The American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research have developed diet and fitness guidelines aimed to help reduce the risk of cancer. For more tips on nutrition and healthy eating visit The American Cancer Society website, or Download the “Heal Well Guide” from American Institute for Cancer Research.

Active living

Studies indicate staying active after cancer can help lower the risk of recurrence and can lead to longer survival. There are many benefits of moderate exercise (walking, biking, swimming) 30 minutes every—or almost every—day.

Regular moderate exercise can:

  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Improve mood and boost self-esteem
  • Improve bone strength and density decreasing risk of osteoperosis
  • Reduce fatigue, nausea, pain, and diarrhoea
  • Reduce risk of heart disease
  • Help to maintain health body weight

Start an exercise program slowly and increase activity over time, working with your doctor or a physiotherapist. If you need to stay in bed during recovery, stretching or moving your arms or legs can help you stay flexible, relieve muscle tension. Some people may need to take special care in exercising. Talk with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can decrease the risk of developing cancer as well as improving cardiovascular fitness, maintaining bone mineral density and reducing stress. Being more active can also reduce your weight another factor that influences the risk of developing cancer.

Just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day is good for your health. There is evidence to suggest that the more exercise you do, the lower your cancer risk - especially if this is more vigorous physical activity.

The Cancer Council of Australia has tips for ways to get more active and reduce your cancer risk. Visit The Cancer Council of Australia website.