Part 2: Lifestyle Modifications for Breast Cancer Survivors

This article was brought to you by Truestar Health: The World's Most Comprehensive Nutrition, Fitness & Healthy Lifestyle ResourcePart 1 of this article series examined the benefits of regular physical exercise for protection against breast cancer. A breast cancer diagnosis of any type is physiologically, psychologically and emotionally draining for the patient and her family. Treatment plans are readily available to attack the disease and to prevent progression. According to the American Cancer Society (2003), a majority of breast cancer cases are now diagnosed at a localized stage and are usually given a five-year survival rate. The impact of cancer is different for everyone. Survivors are blessed with the outcome, but must also “fight” to prevent a secondary cancer occurrence. Regular exercise and a diet low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables can provide vital protection from the development of a secondary cancer event.Moving OnMoving on from any type of cancer is difficult, not only for the patient, but also for her loved ones. When my father’s lung cancer prognosis was initially marked “in remission,” we all felt a sense of security coupled with instability. This disease was once fully functional in his body and we knew it could come back rampantly at any time. The disease in his body caused a sense of “dis-ease” in my entire family. However, remission of the cancer gave us hope for a brighter future and hope for making necessary changes in all of our lives. My father’s diet improved and he exercised more. There are no guarantees in life, but evidence has shown that regular exercise combined with healthy food intake helps manage body weight and fatness and also protects from a secondary cancer occurrence. A Look at the Importance of Waist to Hip Ratio The treatment stage of breast cancer is very difficult and is usually accompanied by weight gain. When the patient is ready and feels better, beginning or continuing an exercise program that combines both aerobic and resistance training workouts helps build lean muscle mass and promotes healthy weight loss. Weight gain is generally accompanied by higher levels of insulin and sugar in the blood and an assortment of other conditions, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. Waist to hip ratio is a marker that is often used to estimate the fat distribution around the waist and hips against your overall health risk. The higher the ratio, the higher your health risk. According to a study conducted in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2003) that followed breast cancer survivors for up to 10 years, it was reported that a high waist to hip ratio was directly related to breast cancer mortality. A primary goal of protection is to decrease fatness around the abdominal region. How Exercise HelpsRegular exercise has many physical and psychological benefits. Exercise in the form of resistance and aerobic training helps build lean muscle, increases metabolism and improves fat-burning potential which all contribute to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Along with decreasing the waist to hip ratio, regular exercise can also decrease serum estradiol levels, which when elevated, can increase breast cancer risk and recurrence. Psychologically, exercise improves mood, self-esteem and creates an overall feeling of wellness. One of the biggest barriers to starting an exercise program is just that: getting started. Once you begin to exercise, your body quickly adapts and you begin to feel and function like those who regularly exercise. A study conducted in the Psychooncology Journal (2005) illustrated that after a 12-week exercise intervention, non-active survivors who followed a regular exercise program reported similar behavioral processes of change, similar minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, similar scores to complete the one mile walk test and same self –efficacy scores to regularly active survivors. There are no promises, but following a regular exercise program does appear to decrease risk of a second episode.Eat to LiveTo optimally process and assimilate the foods we eat, we need to consume foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. We all remember the old cliché, “You are what you eat.” It could be modified to“Your body responds to what you eat.” If your body is given foods that are highly nutritious, easy to digest and packed with the necessary components, such as fiber to help regulate blood sugar levels and keep you “regular”, you are taking all of the right steps to protect yourself from a second incident of cancer. While it is important to decipher good food choices from bad ones, few studies have actually substantiated an ideal diet to prevent a second cancer episode. However, many researchers are currently looking at the right combination of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, along with quality of food (organic versus non-organic) which provide the greatest protection against second occurrences of cancer. A balanced diet nourishes the body, preserves or increases lean muscle mass, maintains a healthy body weight and strengthens immune function. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat proteins, such as chicken and fish, and low-fat diets in general appear to lower overall disease risk. An adequate intake of fiber is also very important. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2004) conducted a diet intervention on 291 women with a history of breast cancer. The dietary goals included increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, dietary fiber and reduced fat intake. Various reproductive hormones were tested before the test and one year following the study. One year produced no significant weight loss; however there was a reduction in the estradiol concentration in women diagnosed with breast cancer. Take-Home MessageThe lifestyle choices you can make to protect yourself from the development of cancer are the same choices you can make to protect yourself from a second episode. There are no promises, but healthy lifestyle choices lead to greater well-being, energy levels, immune and cardiovascular system functioning and greater hope in the quality and quantity of life. Regular exercise and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein maintains lean muscle mass as well as maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the levels of hormones that are implicated as one of the many contributing causes of breast cancer. More research is currently being conducted on preventing secondary occurrences of cancer, but we are fortunate to have enough information to put us on the right track to health and survival. Did you like what you read? Click here to read more articles brought to you by Truestar Health: "The World's Most Comprehensive Nutrition, Fitness & Healthy Lifestyle Resource"