Preventing Recurrence: Exercise, Not More Fruits and Veggies, Is Key

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • A breast cancer study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 18 should bring some peace of mind to diet-conscious women who have been trying to follow a supposedly cancer-preventing low-fat, less-meat, more fruit-and-veggies diet–and failing. (For related breast cancer news coverage, read: Diet Does Not Improve Breast Cancer Survival).

    JAMA reported the results of a seven-year study involving over 3,000 women, undertaken by cancer researcher John P. Pierce, PhD, and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego. The women, diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, were divided into two groups, with half following the National Cancer Institute’s recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The other half consumed more fruits and vegetables, up to 12 servings per day.


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    Specifically, on average they ingested five vegetable servings, three fruit servings, 16 ounces of vegetable juice, and 30 grams of fiber (one serving = 1/2 cup). The result: Seventeen percent of the women saw a cancer recurrence, and 10 percent died–in each group. No difference.

    However, eating double-digit servings of fruits and veggies wasn’t the only test being run on the women in this study. In addition, some were assigned to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, AND exercise for 30 minutes–and that group showed a significant reduction in breast cancer recurrence, and an increase in survival rates.

    So what’s your takeaway here? If you want to prevent breast cancer recurrence, and decrease your chance of dying, eat five servings a day of fruit and vegetables; and exercise for 30 minutes. Attention, ladies: this is NOT HARD TO DO. The UC-San Diego study has done us a big favor by saying that we don’t have to go overboard, and totally change our way of eating. We don’t have to buy spinach by the bushel, nor substitute carrot juice for that kick-me-into-gear cup of cappuccino in the morning. We just have to be diligent in keeping fruits and veggies in our diet every day–and exercising.

    Here’s an example of how simple five servings a day can be. Breakfast: a 6-ounce glass (one juice glass) of orange juice, and 1/2 cup of sliced fruit (about half a banana) on your cereal. That’s 2 servings. Lunch: a salad of 2 cups of Romaine lettuce and 1/2 cup other vegetables (tomatoes, cukes, carrots, onions…) That’s 3 servings. And there you have it. You don’t even have to think about what you eat for dinner; go ahead, have that hot dog and baked beans. Now how hard is that?

    And then there’s the word dreaded by so many: exercise. Thirty minutes will help prevent a cancer recurrence. Yeah, yeah, you spend hours commuting, sitting at your computer, lying in bed… and now it’s time to find 10 minutes, three times a day, to move around. How about vacuuming, walking to the end of the street and back, or strolling purposefully around the mall? Heck, you want to get serious, hop on a bike and pedal around the neighborhood. I’m not even mentioning the word gym, which of course would give you your 30 minutes easily. But simply getting off your duff and moving at a reasonably moderate pace is exercise. Ten minutes, three times a day. You can do that. Just like you can follow the “5-a-day” recommendation. Hey, you did chemo, radiation, surgery… think how much easier this is!


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    For tips on reducing breast cancer risk:


    Read my SharePost on recommendations outlined in the Harvard Women's Health Letter.

Published On: July 23, 2007