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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Survivors: Nutrition and Fitness Tips

Eat foods that are cancer-protective to help prevent a recurrence, and get back into exercise to lose extra pounds.

Ease Back into Fitness, and be Realistic

Here are some tips from Weiss and Jami Bernard, a New York film critic, breast cancer survivor and author of Breast Cancer: There and Back.

  • Talk to your doctor. You may have ignored those warnings that always appear in the fitness magazines: "Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program." Don't ignore them this time. Check with your treatment team to see how much exercise they feel you can handle.
  • Start small and build. Ignore the recommended levels of weekly exercise set for people with no health problems. At the beginning, you may only be able to handle a 15-minute walk four times a week.
  • Set realistic expectations. If you were running an eight-minute mile before you started chemotherapy, don't expect that you'll be able to match that pace three or four months after your last dose. Comparing your current level of fitness with where you were before starting treatment will only discourage you. Remember, you've just run a tougher race than the Ironman, and your body is naturally drained.
  • Don't stress your bones and joints. If you've been diagnosed with metastases to the bone, or bone loss related to chemotherapy, avoid activities that involve jumping or twisting at the hips. These could add to your risk of fractures. Instead, try exercise that's easier on your bones and joints. The perfect pastime: swimming, a no-impact way to work your muscles and your cardiovascular system.
  • Be aware of your ability to balance. If you have neuropathy (tingling or numbness) in your feet or hands after chemotherapy, which can affect your balance, be careful about activities that might increase your risk of falling. Instead of running on a treadmill, for example, you might prefer working out on an exercise bicycle.
  • Find a partner. It's always easier to get motivated to exercise when you have someone to share it with. Team Survivor ( is a national organization with about 20 chapters nationwide that organizes exercise programs at all fitness levels for women who've had cancer.

Strengthening Your Body, and Slowly Shedding Extra Pounds

If you've had lymph nodes removed, many experts will warn you not to lift more than 15 pounds with the affected arm. Bernard, who had been working out with weights a lot at the time of her diagnosis and worried about losing her new muscle tone, says she was "scared straight" by such warnings, and found herself almost afraid to do anything with that arm.

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