New Guidelines on Exercise and Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment Released

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Many studies have found that a healthy diet and regular exercise can improve a woman’s overall health and well-being during and after breast cancer treatment. Benefits can include:

  • faster recovery from treatment
  • lower risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence)
  • better survival rates
  • improved mood, stamina, and overall sense of wellness

The American Cancer Society asked a group of experts to review the available information and develop new guidelines on diet and exercise during and after cancer treatment. The guidelines were published online April 26, 2012 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Read Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors.

While not specific to breast cancer, the guidelines focus on a number of topics, including the role of diet and exercise for people: 

  • undergoing cancer treatment
  • recovering from treatment
  • diagnosed with recurrent or advanced-stage cancer
  • who are long-term cancer survivors

The guidelines urge cancer survivors to get to and maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Specific recommendations include:

  • limit high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to promote weight loss if overweight or obese
  • avoid being inactive and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after diagnosis
  • aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week
  • include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week
  • eat a diet full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains

The guidelines also suggest specific exercise goals for cancer survivors.

Adults age 18 to 64 should do moderate aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes per week or vigorous aerobic exercise for 75 minutes per week. An equal combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise is OK, too. So maybe you do an hour and 15 minutes of moderate exercise and 35 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time and try to exercise throughout the week rather than cramming it all in on one day. Strength training for all major muscle groups also should be done at least 2 days per week.

Adults older than 65 should follow the same recommendations for people age 18 to 64 if possible. Still, if chronic conditions limit your activity, try to be as active as you can and avoid being inactive for long periods of time.

The experts encouraged people to take part in a structured exercise program (through a cancer support program, for example) because many people find it hard to stick with an exercise program after cancer treatment.

The guidelines offer examples of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise.

Moderate exercise (you can talk, but not sing) is:

  • ballroom and line dancing
  • biking on level ground or with few hills
  • canoeing
  • general gardening (raking, trimming shrubs)
  • sports where you catch and throw (baseball, softball, volleyball)
  • doubles tennis
  • using a manual wheelchair
  • using a hand cycle (also called an ergometer)
  • brisk walking
  • water aerobics

Vigorous exercise (you can say only a few words before having to stop to catch your breath) is:

  • aerobic dancing
  • biking faster than 10 miles per hour
  • fast dancing
  • heavy gardening (digging, hoeing)
  • hiking uphill
  • jumping rope
  • martial arts (karate, for example)
  • race walking, jogging, or running
  • sports with a lot of running or movement (basketball, hockey, soccer)
  • swimming fast or swimming laps
  • singles tennis

If you're being treated or have been treated for breast cancer, it’s a good idea to make exercise and a healthy diet part of your daily routine. Think of exercise and a healthy diet as important parts of your overall treatment plan that help you recover and stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about how much and how often you should exercise. Ask around and see if any breast cancer support groups near you have organized exercise classes. If you can't find an exercise class through a breast cancer support group, consider joining another exercise class or start walking with a friend. There's a good chance that exercising with other people will give you the motivation and support to make regular exercise part of your recovery. Find the right exercise routine for YOU and then do your best to stick with it! It can make a difference both physically and mentally, today and tomorrow.

If you’d like more information and resources, visit the Breastcancer.org Nutrition and Exercise sections.

In the Nutrition section, you can learn about:

  • healthy eating during and after treatment
  • dietary supplements
  • online nutrition resources

In the Exercise section, you can learn about:

  • benefits of exercise
  • types of exercise
  • when you can and can't exercise during treatment
  • tips on finding a trainer

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