Nutrition and Physical Activity
If you’re recovering from surgery, or receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or other breast cancer treatment, your focus is on getting rid of the cancer. Eating well will help you stay strong for this fight by giving your body the nutrients it needs.
You and your doctor can’t predict exactly how your treatment will affect you. Your general health and weight before your diagnosis play a role. So do the type, amount, and length of treatment you are receiving. As you move through your treatment, listen to your body and respond to what it needs. You may continue to enjoy cooking and eating and have a normal appetite. Or you might have days when you don’t feel like eating anything, days when you want to eat everything and times when only some things taste good. It’s best to have a flexible, healthy eating plan to help you deal with your body’s changing needs and wants.
A healthy diet — one with a variety of foods that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and regular protein — gives you the reserves of nutrients you need to keep your strength up while you’re being treated for breast cancer. These reserves also help rebuild your body’s tissues and keep your immune system strong to help fight off infection. Plus, a healthy diet can help you manage treatment side effects. There is evidence that some cancer treatments actually work better in people who are eating enough calories and protein. While you’re having breast cancer treatment, it’s more important than ever that you eat a healthy diet.
The side effects of some chemotherapy — such as nausea, loss of appetite, and mouth sores — can make it difficult for a woman with breast cancer to eat enough of the right foods. While pills can’t replace nutritionally balanced meals, certain supplements can provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, especially during cancer treatment. But be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you may decide to take during cancer treatment; some vitamins can actually counteract certain anti-cancer drugs. A daily multivitamin is a good place to start. Depending on your health, other single supplements may benefit you, such as:
Herbs are also considered as legitimate healing agents these days. While they cannot substitute for modern medical cancer treatment, certain herbs may boost your immune system before or during treatment, or help your body handle chemotherapy with fewer side effects. Green tea is a simple drink with potent healing potential. The use of Honey, Dates, Almonds, Olives, Olive oil and other healthy natural foods may boost your immune system.
After your treatment for breast cancer, you may find you’ve gained or lost weight, or you may simply want to know if diet can play a role in your recovery and future health.
If you’ve put on weight, as some people do during and after treatment, it can be distressing. This may be due to:
• the side effects of some drugs, which increase appetite
• the body retaining fluid
• being less active than usual
• overeating when you’re anxious or because your usual routine has changed
• the menopause (as a result of your treatment)
It can be helpful to check your ideal weight with your GP or practice nurse, who can also offer advice about healthy eating.
We put on weight when the amount of calories we eat is more than the amount of calories we burn through normal everyday activities and exercise.
Regular physical activity can help maintain or improve your health during and after treatment, and can:
- prevent or reduce the loss of muscle tone and aerobic fitness that can happen during treatment
- help avoid or alleviate some side effects of cancer treatment – such as fatigue, weight gain, osteoporosis and lymphedema – and improve your mood and reduce anxiety and depression
- improve your long-term health, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and even lessening the risk of the cancer coming back.
It’s recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity a week.
You can split this however you like. For example, you could do 30 minutes of activity on five days a week. If you want to do shorter periods of activity, you could do 10 minutes three times a day on each of these days.
Any amount of activity is better than none, so try to minimise the time you spend sitting down or being inactive.
If you’ve had reconstructive surgery, check with your specialist team when you can start exercising.
Tips if you’re new to exercise
Formal exercise aren’t for everyone, but there are many ways to include physical activity in your daily routine.
If you’re new to exercise, you should build up your activity levels gradually. The following tips may help.
- If you enjoy walking, try to increase the amount of time you walk for and the number of times you walk each day. You could also try increasing your pace as your energy returns.
- Active house work, such as dusting or cleaning, can help increase your daily activity levels.
- If you drive to work or the shops, park your car a little further away and walk the rest.
- Get off the bus a stop earlier than you need to and walk.
- Use the stairs instead of talking the lift.
- Try to sit less and stand more, for example when talking on the phone.
- Gardening can be a good way to get some exercise.
- Setting realistic goals and keeping a record of how much activity you do may help you stay motivated.
As well as activities like walking, aim to do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week, once your surgeon has given you the go-ahead.
These activities can help strengthen your muscles after treatment, and include:
• sitting to standing
• press-ups against the wall
• lifting light weights, such as tins of food or small bottles of water
• activities that involve stepping and jumping such as dancing (but take care if you’re at risk of osteoporosis)
• using fitness equipment such as a static bike or cross trainer
• yoga or pilates