Exercise and good eating are not only a one-two punch for better health, but this powerful duo also lowers your risk of developing breast cancer. Or, if you are diagnosed with it, exercise and a healthy diet can increase your odds of beating the disease.
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Surgical breast oncologist Stephanie Valente, DO, recommends five things you can do to boost breast health:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
The relationship between obesity and breast cancer is not fully understood, but we know it’s important for women to keep a healthy weight to reduce risk.
The production of estrogen in women’s fat tissue after menopause is a major factor. In obese women, estrogen-sensitive breast cancer tissues are exposed to more estrogen than in women of a healthy weight. This can stimulate the growth and progression of breast cancer.
Women who are obese — with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher — tend to have more advanced disease at the time their breast cancer is diagnosed than women with a BMI below 25. These women are also at greater risk for the disease spreading and are more likely to die of breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors who are obese also run a greater risk of the disease coming back.
2. Exercising as a preventative measure
Women who are physically active are 25% less likely to develop breast cancer than women who are sedentary. Research shows that regular exercise can help prevent breast cancer by boosting immune function, warding off obesity and lowering levels of estrogen and insulin.
Along with helping you maintain your weight, exercise can also improve bone mass, which is a critical issue for breast cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy and endocrine therapy. These medications are tied to lower bone mineral density, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
From daily activities such as house cleaning to programs designed specifically for cancer patients, there’s something out there for everyone.
“Just 30 minutes a day and at least four to five days each week is enough to get you started,” says Dr. Valente. “Walking is the easiest type of exercise to maintain, but always listen to your body.”
Whether you’re trying to prevent breast cancer, are fighting breast cancer, or have survived breast cancer, exercise can help.
3. Stay hydrated and eat a healthy, balanced diet
Fill your plate with at least five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In addition, broccoli, cabbage, kale, watermelon and whole grains are cancer-fighting foods. It’s important to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in walnuts, fish, soybeans and pumpkin seeds. Steer clear of refined sugars and fats because they’re notorious for not only packing on the weight to your waistline, but with weight gain comes a higher risk of breast cancer, too.
“Don’t forget to stay hydrated, too,” says Dr. Valente. “Keep a water bottle on hand and aim for about 2 to 3 liters of water a day.”
Get educated on reading food labels while at the grocery store. Take into consideration how many calories a canned item or packaged food has and always look at the serving size. This way, you’ll be able to limit your intake of any bad-for-you foods.
It’s believed that good nutrition can help protect against a host of cancers, including breast cancer, and can slow or prevent the disease’s progression or recurrence.
“Creating a healthy meal plan and exercising frequently can help put you on track to maintaining a healthy weight,” says Dr. Valente. “Talk to your doctor or dietitian to help get you started on the right foot.”
4. Limit alcohol to one drink per day
Women who drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day — even just two drinks — are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Women who have three or more drinks per week after being diagnosed with breast cancer run a greater risk that their breast cancer will recur.
According to the American Cancer Society, the amount of alcohol consumed is important, not the type of alcoholic drink. A serving of an alcoholic drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1 1/2 ounces of hard liquor.
5. Take your vitamins, especially vitamin D
Women with low levels of vitamin D may run a greater risk of developing breast cancer, and breast cancer survivors with low vitamin D levels may have a greater risk of disease recurrence. Research also suggests that high vitamin D levels are linked to better breast cancer survival rates.
The best source of vitamin D is from the sun, so women who don’t get a lot of daily sun exposure can be deficient in vitamin D. However, if you’re in the sun frequently, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to lower your risk of skin cancer.
Have your vitamin D level checked. If your levels are low, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D3 supplement.
“Your health is in your hands,” says Dr. Valente. “By making these five healthy habits part of your life, you not only fight breast cancer but many other cancers and diseases while enjoying more energy, lower stress levels and better moods.”