Healthy Eating and Exercise

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This Navigator topic outlines the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise:

  • In preparation for cancer treatment
  • During and following your treatment
  • To reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

It lists a range of resources including fact sheets, tips and practical strategies, along with relevant programs and services available to help you.

This information is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to provide a starting point to information seeking. Remember to always consult your medical or allied health professional before commencing an exercise program or for specialist advice on your diet.

Last Updated: 10 June, 2021 4:10 pm

When making decisions about diet, exercise and other lifestyle issues, you may wish to consider the following questions. These questions may help you to identify priorities and set achievable goals to create lifestyle changes.

You may want to ask questions during or after treatment. You can ask these questions of your oncologist or other medical or allied health specialist, or as a guide to help you to put together your own questions.

  • When can I start to exercise again (after surgery, during treatment)?
  • What exercise can I do safely and how frequently?
  • What food or drinks should I avoid or eat more of during my treatment?
  • Can I drink alcohol and if so how much is a safe level of consumption for me?
  • Who can I talk to about developing an exercise program or my diet?
  • What can I do to improve my sleep?
  • What can I do to better manage my fatigue levels?
  • Am I at risk of problems with my bone health as a result of this treatment, and what can I do to prevent it if I am?
  • What can I do to increase and/or maintain my motivation to change my lifestyle (e.g. to improve my diet, increase my activity levels, lose weight, reduce alcohol consumption)?
  • What complementary therapies can I use safely?
  • What can I do to help me cope better with my feelings of stress and anxiety?
  • How do I find an exercise (or Yoga, Tai chi, Qi gong, etc) class, and how do I choose the right class for me?

Listed below are a number of key cancer organisations, both in Australia and overseas, that provide information and support in relation to healthy eating and exercise. Specific resources provided by some of these organisations can be found in the pages dedicated to online and offline resources within this navigator. The links below will take you to the home page of the organisation where you can search for your own information.

Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) (VIC)

Victorian arm of the Cancer Council provides comprehensive support and information to people with all types of cancers, and their carers and families. The website contains online resources, and information on how to access support by phone and face to face.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BNCA) (AUS)

An Australia-wide organisation that provides information, support and advocacy on breast cancer issues, from diagnosis through to life after treatment. BCNA have produced a range of resources on healthy living that can be found online or ordered through their website.

Dragons Abreast Australia (AUS)

Australia wide organisation for 'survivors' of breast cancer that has the focus of participating in dragon boating for exercise and peer support.

Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health (AUS)

Not-for-profit Australian organisation dedicated to providing information on a range of women's health issues. The website contains a range of resources relevant to healthy living including advice on diet, exercise and relaxation strategies.

American Cancer Society (US)

American-based cancer organisation dedicated to providing support and information in relation to all cancer types. Click on 'Stay healthy' in the main menu to find more information.

Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Centre (US)

American-based cancer organisation dedicated to providing direct care, support and information in relation to all cancer types. The website has comprehensive information on health and lifestyle factors that impact on living with cancer, particularly after treatment.

The online resources recommended below include links to important information relevant to this area that is primarily available online, or can be printed off as a contained document. The link will take you to the relevant section on healthy eating and exercise in relation to cancer.

Some of the links to organisation’s websites may be repeated in the ‘Key organisations’ section of this navigator in recognition of the important role these organisations play in support for people living with cancer.

Counterpart webinar - 'Managing menopause: a naturopathic approach' 2020 (VIC)

Experienced Naturopath Sandra Villella speaks about managing menopausal symptoms using diet, lifestyle changes, and natural therapies. Hosted by Fiona McRae. Recorded at Women's Health Victoria on 17 February 2020.

Cancer Survival Guide podcast - Why wait for wellness: Dietitian 2020 (VIC)

In episode 1, Dietitian Amy Smith discusses the role of diet in helping you thrive during cancer treatment and beyond.

Cancer Survival Guide podcast - Why wait for wellness: Exercise physiologist 2020 (VIC)

In episode 2, Accredited Exercise Physiologist Tracey Duggan explains how exercise can help counteract many negative side effects of cancer and its treatment.

Cancer Survival Guide podcast - Why wait for wellness: Psychologist 2020 (VIC)

In episode 3, Clinical Psychologist Dr Sarah McKinnon explains how a psychologist could help you deal with the things that are really troubling you during cancer treatment.

Counterpart webinar - 'Older, fitter, stronger 2019 (VIC)

It's important to maintain good health, fitness and strong bones as we age. Physiotherapist Libby Oldfield outlines the steps we can take, beginning right now, to improve our health and fitness into the future. Recorded at Counterpart Resource Centre in Melbourne.

Counterpart webinar - 'The science of exercise' 2016 (VIC)

Dr Karen White, a Medical Oncologist, discusses the scientific evidence for the benefits of exercise after cancer. Dr White initiated strive2thrive, a specialised exercise and wellbeing program for people diagnosed with cancer in Geelong.

Counterpart webinar - 'Obesity and breast cancer: what are the links' 2016 (VIC)

Kristy Brown, Head of the Metabolism and Cancer Laboratory at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, will speak on the evidence linking obesity and breast cancer, and its impact on the management of breast cancer.

Cancer Council Victoria - Managing Daily Life (VIC)

In the 'Managing daily life' section of this website there is extensive information on cancer in relation to exercise, relaxation, nutrition and other relevant topics.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) - My Journey online tool 2018 (AUS)

Formerly the My Journey Kit, this tool is now online. Sign up to access information that can be tailored to your own situation. Includes a section on Nutrition + Exercise.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) - Exercise and Staying Fit (AUS)

This section of the BCNA website provides articles on body image, exercise options, dealing with fatigue, and bone health. The downloadable brochure ‘Breast cancer and exercise’ (available on this page) includes general advice plus goal-centred planning tool and an exercise diary.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre - Survivorship Centre: Living Beyond Cancer (US)

American based organisation and website dedicated to assisting people living with cancer. The Survivorship Centre section includes information on eating well during and after treatment, tips for simple meal ideas, an overview of complementary medicine approaches, and creative ways to exercise. The 'Videos for Survivors' section includes presentations on the benefits of exercise, and use of Qi Gong in cancer management.

American Cancer Society - Stay Healthy (US)

American based organisation that has a comprehensive website with a section on how to 'stay healthy' during and after cancer treatment. The website includes links to tools and resources to assist, for example, in weight management and eating well.

MacMillan Cancer Society - Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle (UK)

United Kingdom-based organisation dedicated to assisting people diagnosed with cancer. Their comprehensive website, includes a section on living well after cancer, and includes creative tips on how to be active and eat well.

Counterpart webinar - Shrink your Worries! 2020 (AUS)

Social worker Lynda Evans provides practical strategies for managing anxiety. Recorded on 21 May 2020.

Counterpart webinar - Mindfulness 2019 (AUS)

Find out how mindfulness practise helps reduce the experience of stress. Hosted by Kellie Holland and presented by Suzanne Peyton, from The Mindful Well. Recorded at Women's Health Victoria in Melbourne, on Monday 29 July 2019.

Cancer Council South Australia - Mindfulness (SA)

The third video on this page provides a four minute mindfulness practice. The presenter gives a short example of this type of relaxation/mediation practice, as well as a summary of its benefits.

Medical News Today - 'Breast cancer survivors benefit from yoga' (article)

This article outlines a US study on yoga and its positive effects on reducing inflammation and fatigue, and improving sleep for women after breast cancer treatment. The study found that the yoga practices of most benefit were the breathing and meditation practices.

This is a list of hard copy resources such as books and CDs that are not readily available online. They may be available for loan through Counterpart’s Resource Centre or may be sourced independently online or through book stores. You can access the Counterpart library online or call the Resource Centre directly on 1300 781 500.

Counterpart Feel Good Exercise Program

Fortnightly exercise program based in Melbourne city, designed to tone the body and help the lymphatic system. The program is free and available to women with a breast cancer diagnosis.

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Counterpart Stepping Into Wellness Exercise Program

Stepping into Wellness is a six-week gentle exercise program for women who have experienced breast or a gynaecological cancer. Women are supported to experience a range of exercise types and to find ways to continue to exercise in their local communities. This program is supported through the generosity of Pink Affair.

View Details Online

Dragons Abreast Australia

Australia wide organisation and program dedicated to bringing women together who have experienced breast cancer to participate in dragon boating activity.

View Details Online

Eastern Health Cancer Oncology Rehabilitation Program (VIC)

Rehabilitation program based in Wantirna, Melbourne, for adults with a primary breast cancer diagnosis, and who reside in the Eastern Health catchment area.

View Details Online

Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (VIC)

Based in the inner-North East region of Melbourne, the ONJCWC offers a diverse 'wellness' program of events and activities, including a regular yoga program.

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'Strengthen your recovery - a Pilates program following breast cancer surgery’ (DVD) Breast Cancer Network Australia (AUS)

Produced by BCNA, this DVD provides pilates instruction for women 0 – 10 weeks following breast surgery. The instruction is provided by an Australian qualified instructor, who is also a breast cancer survivor.

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'Healthy eating during chemotherapy' (book), by J. Van-Mil and C. Arthur-MacKenzie

This book includes information on healthy eating while going through chemotherapy, and includes many recipes for easy meals and drinks, and advice on safe food handling. The primary author is a culinary consultant and the secondary author is a scientist who specialises in nutrition and cancer. Both authors have personal experience of cancer.

Kyle Cathie, London (2008)

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'Eat well: be well' (book)

This beautifully presented book contains healthy vegan and vegetarian recipes from the Gawler Foundation kitchen, plus menu ideas and easy-to-read information on nutrition.

The Gawler Foundation, Victoria (2013)

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'The Essence of Health' (book), by Craig Hassad

This book is written by an Australian medical researcher, academic and thinker based in Melbourne. He writes about the ‘seven pillars of good health’, and includes material on living well though maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, and undertaking meditation/mindfulness practices.

Random House Australia, Sydney (2008)

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'Everyone's Guide to Cancer Supportive Care' (book) by E.H. and I. Rosenbaum

Comprehensive handbook for people diagnosed with cancer and their families. The book includes sections on developing and keeping a healthy mind and body through the cancer experience.

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City (2005)

View Details Online

Counterpart library

Search the Counterpart library, selecting 'Health and wellbeing' from the 'Browse catalogue' list.

View Details Online

This list directs you to websites containing personal stories both written and in video format, and may include blogs and online forums. The information contained in these links reflects the personal experiences of individuals and does not constitute evidence-based research or information.

Peter Mac Cancer Centre/Cancer Survivorship Centre - Stories of people affected by cancer (VIC)

The Peter Mac Cancer Centre website lists personal stories of people affected by cancer. One story is by Judy Sammut OAM, who talks about life since her breast cancer diagnosis, and the importance staying active and her networks have played during and since cancer treatment.

'The Beacon' magazine - Breast Cancer Network Australia (AUS)

Issue 61 (Summer 2012) of BCNA magazine The Beacon contains a number of inspiring personals stories by women who have found different ways to stay healthy and active following breast cancer diagnosis. Scroll down the page to find this edition of The Beacon.