Living Well

“A woman can cut her chance of cancer by as much as two-thirds with good nutrition and weight management,” – even a woman who carries the BRCA1 or 2 genes can reduce her risk.”

– Cheryl L. Rock, Ph.D., R.D., professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine

A healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet and regular exercise, are important for everyone. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an active and nutritious lifestyle can prevent approximately one in three types of breast cancer and 30 to 35 per cent of all cancers. However, making healthy lifestyle choices is especially critical for a person battling breast cancer.

Regular exercise and healthy dietary choices lower the risk of breast cancer in healthy women. Making changes to their lifestyles benefits all breast cancer patients in all stages of the cancer journey, whether they are undergoing treatment, recovering, or in remission.

In this section, you will receive helpful information on how to lead a healthy lifestyle before, during and after a breast cancer diagnosis. Related resources, recommended exercises, workout programs for women with breast cancer, and healthy recipes are also available.


Knowing what to eat during and after treatment for breast cancer can be difficult. You may experience a loss or increase of appetite, your tastes may change and you may decide to follow a new diet.

Below you’ll find tips to help you eat a healthy balanced diet as well as links to information on specific aspects of diet and breast cancer.

Six nutrition guidelines to follow following a breast cancer diagnosis (via Health Link BC):

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, aim for a slow gradual weight loss of ½-1 kg (1-2 lbs) per week.
  • Follow a diet for Cancer Prevention. Use Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide to help you plan your diet. Lower fat eating is recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease and to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A lower fat diet may also lower the risk of breast cancer returning, especially for women who also lose weight.
  • Be active every day. Regular exercise can help improve your quality of life and lower the risk of breast cancer returning. It also helps you stay at a healthy weight.
  • Avoid alcohol. Any amount of any kind of alcohol increases your risk for breast cancer and/or increases the risk of breast cancer returning.
  • Aim for the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Taken from Health Link BC

Other Helpful Resources:

Eat well: Nutrition and Breast Cancer Research findings conducted by the University of California San Francisco regarding nutrition and physical activity for cancer patients, survivors and for your daily life.

What to Eat During Cancer Treatment This cookbook contains 100 fast, flavorful recipes to help both patient and caregiver prepare satisfying meals to combat some of the side effects of treatment.

Starting Chemotherapy: 15 Nutrition tips If you are undergoing chemotherapy, you want to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible during treatment. What you eat during treatment can make a big difference in helping you achieve that goal.


Nine Benefits of Regular Exercise

According to, women with breast cancer who exercise regularly gain the following health benefits: *

1. Lower your cancer risk. Regular exercise lowers the risk of breast cancer coming back, as well as reducing the risk of ever being diagnosed with breast cancer. Exercise also can lower your risk of cancers of the colon, lung, and uterus.

2. Maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight by building muscle and burning fat. Overweight and obese women— defined as having a BMI (body mass index) of over 25— have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women with a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in women who have had the disease. This higher risk occurs because fat cells make estrogen, and more estrogen in the body may promote the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.

3. Fewer and less severe side effects from treatment. Research suggests that exercise can:

  • Ease nausea during chemotherapy
  • Improve blood flow to the legs, reducing the risk of blood clots
  • Ease constipation by stimulating digestion and elimination systems
  • Improve your sex drive and enhance arousal
  • Ease fatigue caused by radiation and/or chemotherapy
  • Live longer. Though the issue is complex, research suggests that exercise may improve survival for breast cancer survivors, as exercise would help survivors maintain a healthy weight.

4. Better mobility. Scar tissue that forms after breast cancer surgery, reconstruction, or radiation can lead to your arm and shoulder muscles feeling tight. Not using your arm and shoulder as much after treatment also can cause the muscles in those areas to lose flexibility. Over time, careful stretching exercises can improve any range of motion issues you may have in your arm and shoulder.

5. More muscle and strength. As most people age, they tend to lose muscle and gain fat. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy medicines can throw you into sudden menopause, which also can cause muscle mass to decrease. Strength training exercises can help make sure you have more muscle than fat — which means you’ll be

6. Keep your bones healthy. As you age, you lose bone mass. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, maintaining healthy bones is especially important for you. Research shows that some breast cancer treatments can lead to bone loss. Plus, women are about twice as likely as men to develop osteoporosis (a disease that means your bones are weak and more likely to break) after age 50. Weight-bearing exercise, such as jogging or walking and strength training, can slow bone loss.

7. Feel better about yourself. A breast cancer diagnosis can leave some women feeling scared, depressed, and anxious. Exercise can help lift your spirits, keep depression at bay, and boost your self-esteem. Physical activity triggers the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins that can make you feel happier and more relaxed. You also might feel better about yourself and your appearance if you exercise regularly and see a fit, strong, toned woman looking back at you in the mirror.

8. Sleep better. If you struggle with insomnia or wake up a lot at night, regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.

9. Less stressed. Any type of exercise can help melt away stress. Besides pumping up endorphin production in the brain, exercise can be a type of meditation. By focusing on just one task – running or dancing or whatever you’re doing — you may find that you forget the day’s annoyances and settle into a calm, clear state of mind.

Information taken from

Rehabilitative Exercises

Research suggests that any amount of exercise is better than none, and more is generally better than less. It is recommended that women diagnosed with breast cancer undertake the same amount of exercise as is recommended for all adults – at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate intensity exercise per week (or 30 minutes five times a week). ‘Moderate intensity exercise’ makes breathing a bit harder, but does not make you feel completely out of breath.

Exercise is an important part of breast cancer treatment and recovery. Exercising the arm and shoulder after breast cancer helps (via Canadian Cancer Society):

  • Improve muscle tone
  • Regain and maintain movement and mobility in the arm and shoulder
  • Regain the ability to do daily activities
  • Lessen side effects of surgery, such as pain, joint stiffness, and swelling
  • Improve well-being

Rehabilitative exercises that have been recommended for women who have undergone surgery or who are going through treatment include:

  • Walking or jogging
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Gym classes, such as aerobics or step classes
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Dragon boat racing.

Research with breast cancer survivors have shown that exercise can help you improve (via Alberta Health Services):

  • Your self-esteem
  • Your weight management
  • Your memory to reduce ‘chemobrain’ symptoms
  • Your muscle and bone strength
  • Your life expectancy
  • The chances that you will live longer

If you have radiation therapy after surgery, exercises are even more important to help keep your arm and shoulder flexible. Even if you don’t have surgery, radiation therapy may affect your arm and shoulder long after treatment is finished. Because of this, it is important to develop a regular habit of doing exercises to maintain arm and shoulder mobility after radiation treatments for breast cancer.

For exercises specifically designed for breast cancer survivors, please visit the following links:

Breath of Life – Rethink breast cancer’s live laugh learn program – Breath of Life is a set of instructions on yogic breathing exercises in the kundalini yoga tradition. This handout was developed by Integrated Cancer Coach Marise Foster for one of Rethink’s Live Laugh Learn gatherings. The various benefits of these exercises include activating the lymphatic system and increasing oxygenation, lung capacity & vitality.

Rehabilitation exercises after breast cancer treatment – Canadian Cancer Society – After breast cancer surgery, the arm and shoulder on the side where the woman had surgery can become stiff and sore. Radiation therapy can also cause changes to the flexibility of the arm and shoulder. Rehabilitation exercises after breast cancer treatment can help a woman regain and maintain movement and mobility in the arm and shoulder.

Exercise for Health – Albert Health Services have created an exercise guide for breast cancer survivors.