Exercise and Nutrition for Breast Cancer Recovery
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The 2013 Breast Cancer Fact Sheet from Susan G. Komen for the Cure says there are 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Each one will meet with her doctor to discuss the medical aspects of her treatment plan. But will the doctor discuss nutrition and exercise as part of that plan? Based on the information my clients share with me, probably not.

Developing a holistic healing plan does not mean forgoing modern medicine. Adding exercise, changing your diet and starting a meditation practice are there to support treatment plans that may include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. I believe that conventional medicine and lifestyle choices go hand in hand.

Food is Medicine

How you eat will impact your body’s ability to fight and heal. While there are no miracle foods in this fight, you can give your body the building blocks it needs to stay strong and work with the treatment plan designed by your doctor:

  • Eat whole foods.
    This is the time to go organic and hormone free. Your body will be given enough to handle in treatment, give it the cleanest fuel possible. Find a local farmer who doesn’t use antibiotics or hormones with their livestock. Even at your farmers market be sure to ask if the vendors are using any kind of pesticide on their produce.
  • Increase protein intake.
    Your body needs protein to repair cells, boost immune system production and heal. Search out hormone free, antibiotic free eggs and dairy and plant-based proteins like beans and peas. Talk to your doctor specifically about soy. While it is a great source of plant protein, some breast cancers are impacted by soy intake making them a poor protein choice for some.
  • Eat small meals.
    Appetite decreases and nausea increases during chemotherapy. Small but frequent meals can keep your energy up and lessen stomach distress. Try green smoothies to pack as much nutrition as possible into an easy to digest package.

Movement matters

Exercise might feel like the last thing you want to do during treatment. You may be unsure if you even should exercise after surgery. But movement can be a part of your recovery process. As always, check with your doctor about limitations.

  • Start slowly.
    Something is always better than nothing. Short walks or light stretching for 5-10 minutes can elevate mood and help you sleep better. Try to go outside for a 5-minute walk between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is right for vitamin D production. Vitamin D is a critical nutrient to the immune system and the more of the natural source we can get the better.
  • Focus on mobility.
    Breast cancer surgery can cause stiffness and limit range of motion in the chest and shoulders.  Flexibility and mobility exercises can help restore range of motion. Try pushing and pulling motions with a light resistance band or shoulder and arm circles to help bring the range of motion back.
  • Don’t be afraid of strength training.
    Recent studies have shown that resistance training is not linked to developing or worsening lymphedema.  In fact, one study has shown strength training actually decreases the chances of developing lymphedema. If your doctor recommends no lifting overhead, try working with kettlebells where the primary movers are the legs, hips and core.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your treatment plan. Exercise professionals, medical professionals and community resources are here to help. Locally, Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks (BCFO) does wonderful work providing support for survivors and prevention resources.

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