We’re all aware of the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet – even we don’t partake in either. But studies presented at a cancer conference hammered home the point by demonstrating that there is a link between exercise and breast cancer and a healthy fitness regime can improve survival rates for cancer sufferers.
One of the studies, which monitored the habits of 1,000 colon cancer patients, discovered that those who exercised regularly, ate more fruits and vegetables and avoided refined grains and meats had a 42% lower chance of death after seven years.
Another study – of 300 breast cancer survivors, conducted by the Queensland University of Technology – concluded that those who exercised for three hours a week had far better rates of survival than those who were not partaking in an exercise programme, even if the ‘exercise’ was as low-level as a regular walk.
Walk away from increased risk
The 300 subjects, who were six weeks out of surgery, were randomly assigned to groups that received exercise counselling or to a control group. The women who found themselves in the exercise counselling group were encouraged into attaining a simple goal: indulging in exercise for 180 minutes per week, in whatever manner they liked. Unsurprisingly, most chose the simplest, cheapest and easiest option: to walk.
After a median follow-up of roughly eight years, researchers discovered that 5.3% of the women who had received exercise counselling had died, versus 11.5% of those who had not. Similarly, 12.1% of women in the group that received exercise counselling had a recurrence of cancer, versus 17.7% of those who did not. Clearly, as the researchers pointed out at the conference, an exercise programme after treatment “has clear potential to influence survival”.
The colon cancer study – although specialising in a different form of cancer – also points the way for increased survival rates amongst women who have dealt with breast cancer, as it aimed to test whether the American Cancer Society’s dietary and exercise guidelines – which recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, sticking to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy body weight – had any bearing on survival rates.
The results revealed a surprisingly strong link between a healthy diet and exercise regime and lowered mortality. Even the colon cancer survivors who drank moderately while following other guidelines had a 42% lower chance of dying than those that did not.
Food for thought
While we need to make clear that the majority of research into the influence of diet on breast cancer has produced findings which are inconclusive and inconsistent, there’s a lot to be said for cutting processed foods and red meat out of your diet and mixing in things like dark, leafy vegetables, olive oil, and fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. For a full breakdown of what’s good and what isn’t – as well as an examination of a food myth or two – the Cancer Research website has a comprehensive list of dietary dos and don’ts.