First-time post-cancer diet, exercise guidelines unveiled

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(CNN) — Cancer survivors often talk about first reactions when their doctors first used the word “cancer” during a diagnosis. “It’s almost like the word was in another language that I didn’t understand,” a friend of mine said once.

For many of the nation’s 12 million cancer survivors, learning the new language of post-cancer health maintenance means translating bad eating habits into a healthy diet and exercise.

For the first time, the American Cancer Society on Thursday published formal guidelines for cancer survivors, focusing on the health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. The guidelines are published online in CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

“These recommendations, while we now have evidence that they work for cancer survivors, they are good guidelines for everybody,” said co-author Colleen Doyle, MS RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society, “If you’re eating right and are being active and maintaining a healthy weight, you just feel better.”

While previous information has been published regarding the benefits of healthy weight, exercise and eating, Doyle explained that her team of experts based their report on the growing body of data developed from studying cancer survivors. The main points of the review include:

Maintaining a healthy weight. This includes avoiding weight gain during treatment, and losing weight if you are obese or overweight. A healthy weight is important for fighting recurrance of cancer, as well as beneficial for fighting other health problems.

Exercising regularly — up to 150 minutes per week. This has many health benefits including improved physical function, helping mood and mental clarity, and may even help patients to complete chemotherapy by fighting fatigue and making them feel better.

Various studies have shown that diet and food choices may impact cancer progression and recurrence among cancer survivors. The guidelines suggest eating a healthy diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish, and avoiding a diet containing refined food products, red and processed meats, high fat dairy products and fried foods.

Evidence suggests that caregivers need to be aware of any supplements, vitamins and products that may impact the health of survivors. according to the new guidelines.

The number of U.S. cancer survivors is growing, thankfully, and the ACS says these guidelines can arm survivors with weapons that will help them fight to keep their health.

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