Boosting Your Odds of Staying Cancer-Free: Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors

Empowering Your Body Fitness and Nutrition Advice for Breast Cancer Survivors

Fitness and Nutrition Tips for Life after Breast Cancer

When you finally emerge from the grueling ordeal of breast cancer treatment, you may find yourself with a whirlwind of emotions. The physical and mental toll of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy can leave you feeling utterly drained. But fear not, my resilient warriors, for there are steps you can take in your everyday life to enhance your chances of remaining cancer-free.

You might be surprised to learn that the same healthy lifestyle habits that are known to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the first place can also help prevent recurrence. Formerly just expert opinion, recent studies conducted specifically on breast cancer survivors have provided empirical evidence to support this advice.

You’ve Got to Move It, Move It

Those who exercise regularly before their cancer diagnosis and throughout treatment are less likely to experience cancer recurrence or death than their inactive counterparts. Researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center confirm this in a 2020 study involving 1,340 breast cancer patients. According to the study, adhering to the Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines can significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality.

So, what are those guidelines, you ask? It’s simple: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, coupled with 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercises. Even if you fall slightly short of these targets, you’ll still reap considerable benefits. Yes, my friends, moving a little every day can gradually propel you towards greater feats.

Fitness Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors

Your body has been through a tremendous ordeal, from battling cancer to enduring its aggressive treatments. No one expects you to embark on a marathon (unless that sparks joy in your heart). However, never underestimate the power of regular movement. As Karen Basen-Engquist, PhD, the director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, wisely advises, “Start small. You don’t have to do a lot of intense workouts to benefit.”

With that in mind, here are some fitness pointers for breast cancer survivors:

  1. Start small: A daily 15-minute walk alone can work wonders for your body.
  2. Consult your doctor: Remember that fitness magazines’ advice? Well, this time, take it seriously. Check with your treatment team to determine the appropriate exercise level for your recovery stage.
  3. Set realistic expectations: Don’t expect to match your pre-chemotherapy running pace just months after your last treatment. Give yourself time to heal and regain your strength.
  4. Protect your bones and joints: If chemotherapy has caused bone loss, it’s crucial to avoid high-impact activities like running. Opt for low-impact exercises like walking or swimming instead.
  5. Maintain balance: Those experiencing neuropathy after chemotherapy know how it can impact balance. Safeguard yourself from falling by choosing exercise activities that won’t put you at risk, such as using an exercise bicycle instead of running on a treadmill.
  6. Strength training matters: While we can’t definitively say it improves overall survival, evidence supports the positive impact of strength training on fatigue, quality of life, and physical functioning in breast cancer survivors.

What to Eat: Leafy Greens and Smart Carb Intake

Now, let’s delve into the wonderful world of food. The good news is that the fundamental principles of healthy eating also benefit breast cancer survivors.

Two recent studies, encompassing a quarter of a million women participating in the Nurses’ Health Studies, shed light on how diet impacts breast cancer outcomes. When these women were tracked for nearly three decades, a clear pattern emerged: a healthy diet can lengthen the lives of breast cancer survivors.

Here’s what the research reveals:

  1. Fruits and vegetables: Those who consumed the highest amounts of fruits and vegetables after their breast cancer diagnosis had a lower overall risk of mortality compared to those who ate minimal amounts.
  2. Powerful greens: Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, were found to be particularly beneficial. Daily consumption of almost a full serving of cruciferous vegetables led to a 13% lower risk of death, while nearly two servings of leafy greens per day resulted in a 20% reduction in mortality.
  3. The carbohydrate connection: High glycemic load carbs, like sugary beverages and processed foods, pose an increased risk. Breast cancer survivors with low glycemic load and high-fiber diets exhibited lower mortality rates.

The bottom line? Embrace an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nigel Brockton, PhD, vice president of research for the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), advises, “A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in rapidly digested food sources, such as whole grains and non-starchy vegetables, can benefit women diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Oh, and here’s some delightful news for all you tofu and edamame enthusiasts: Soy, contrary to previous concerns, has a beneficial effect and may even reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. So go ahead, enjoy your delicious soy-based treats guilt-free!

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

In addition to exercise and diet, maintaining a healthy weight plays a crucial role in post-breast cancer outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that higher body mass index (BMI) after diagnosis is associated with poorer prognosis.

To steer clear of unwanted weight gain, strive for the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active
  • Eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (like beans)
  • Avoid sugary drinks and limit intake of fast foods and processed foods high in fats, starches, and sugars
  • Limit red meats like beef, pork, and lamb
  • Avoid processed meats and alcohol

Following these cancer prevention recommendations from the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) will serve as a solid foundation for breast cancer survivors to minimize the risk of recurrence.

Dear readers, armed with this knowledge, you now possess the tools to pave your way towards a vibrant, healthy future. Remember, even small steps can lead to significant progress. Embrace your strength and resilience every day, and may the odds forever be in your favor.