If you’re unsure how to create a healthy eating plan, you may want to talk to a registered dietitian about how to create a healthy plan that is right for you. In the United States, you can get a list of dietitians in your ZIP code at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. You also may be able to call the cancer center where you were treated and ask for a referral to a registered dietitian. Be sure to make fresh, unprocessed food and exercise part of your plan.
Exercise is now considered such an important part of daily life that the U.S. Department of Agriculture added it to ChooseMyPlate.gov, the U.S. government's guide to healthy eating. And the American Cancer Society recommends that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer exercise regularly (about 4 hours per week) to improve their quality of life and physical fitness, as well as to possibly reduce the risk of developing new cancers. Research shows that women who exercise the equivalent of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace after being diagnosed with breast cancer may improve their chances of surviving the disease.
Four hours of exercise a week may sound impossible if you're a lifelong couch potato or if you're sore from surgery, too busy with radiation therapy, or exhausted from chemotherapy. It's hard to force yourself to exercise when you barely have enough energy to get out of bed or off the sofa.
Think about starting slowly, perhaps walking for 15 minutes a day, and then gradually increasing the amount of time you spend exercising. You may need months to work your way up to 4 hours a week, but that's fine. Even during treatment, taking short, slow walks up and down the street or around the block can be very helpful. Then you can progress to gentle exercise, such as yoga or tai chi.
Staying physically active is the key. Short spurts of activity here and there are good. But it's even better to build up to one long period of exercise that lasts from 15 minutes to an hour (or longer, if you can). This helps get your muscles, heart, and breathing all working together. Any exercise you do regularly will make you feel better today and is also good for your long-term health.
If you're not sure how to start exercising, you might want to visit a gym or make an appointment with a personal trainer to learn about different types of exercise. Some people prefer exercising in their homes using videotapes or DVDs. Others find great joy in gardening or yard work, as opposed to organized moderate exercise. Walking with a friend is a great way to socialize AND get the benefits of exercise. With so many different ways to move, you're bound to find a way to exercise that suits your personality and schedule.
"Weight gain can be very psychologically distressing for women with breast cancer. Some type of physical activity is absolutely critical to losing weight and sustaining that weight loss."
— Diana Dyer, M.S., RD
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