What can regular exercise and nutrition do for breast cancer?

breast cancer and exercise Oct7th 2020

Regular exercise can decrease the risk of developing breast cancer and improve symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments.

Some benefits include a decrease in: 

  • fatigue 
  • anxiety 
  • side effects from cancer reducing therapy 

A recent study also links physical activity with longer survival in women diagnosed with high-risk breast cancer. Women who engaged in regular physical activity before their cancer diagnosis and after treatment were less likely to have their cancer recur compared with those who were inactive. This is also true for people who exercise sometimes but do not meet the daily recommended amount. Just ten minutes of exercise every day or every other day may result in less fatigue for people with cancer. 

What amount of exercise is best? 

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults engage in at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Women with breast cancer who met the minimum physical activity guidelines both before diagnosis and at the 2-year follow-up (after treatment) had a 55% reduced chance of their cancer returning and a 68% reduced chance of death from any cause (not just breast cancer) compared with those who did not meet the guidelines at both times. By adding physical activity into your day, it is likely to influence many health outcomes for breast cancer survivors. This includes quality of life, anxiety, fatigue, functional strength, and the ability to tolerate treatment. 

What Can Good Nutrition do for Breast Cancer? 

Eating nutrient-rich foods, like flax seeds and abundant portions of fruits and vegetables, can lower the risk of breast cancer and increase health. In addition, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are especially beneficial. Certain micronutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. One of those nutrients is Vitamin D, which may reduce the risk of breast cancer by not allowing the formation or growth of cancer cells. You can get vitamin D naturally from the sun and by eating some types of fish.

 What can a nutrient-depleted diet do for cancer risk? 

Foods that are devoid of helpful benefits can decrease our overall health. Obesity, and eating nutrient-poor foods, such as concentrated sugars and refined flour products (which can lead to diabetes), low fiber intake, consumption of red meat, and imbalance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats all contribute to increased cancer risk. Diet may play a role in both promoting and inhibiting human breast cancer development. Nutritional risk factors such as consumption of dietary saturated and trans fats, meat, and alcohol, have a variety of associations with breast cancer risk. 

  • Saturated and trans fats: The type of fat has different effects on the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Meat: Consumption of meat is associated with heterocyclic amine exposure. What is that? It’s a mutagenic compound—it changes DNA to increase the risk of getting cancer.  
  • Alcohol: Even small amounts of alcohol have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women.  

Getting started

 Both exercise and good nutrition can help you before, during, and after breast cancer treatment. Talk with your oncologist or surgeon about adding regular exercise to your treatment plan. Ask that they refer you to the Cancer Survivorship Program at ReQuest Physical Therapy, where we can help you establish realistic goals. The physical therapist will design your exercise program for the most benefits and the fewest risks to your health or physical condition. It is important to find activities that are both enjoyable and sustainable. Together, we can design a safe, effective, and enjoyable program to meet your needs and goals. Start gently, and remember to rest and recover between sessions. 

 Take care,  

Jeff Gilliam, PT, PhD, OCS

 ReQuest Physical Therapy 

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