Expert offers advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle before, during and after cancer treatment

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Kristie L. Kahl: Can you explain how maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps before a diagnosis, during treatment and beyond?

Dr Navya Nair: Absolutely. It is therefore so important to maintain a healthy lifestyle at all stages of cancer prevention, and even after a diagnosis and while someone is undergoing treatment. So a healthy diet. So, eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, regular cardiovascular exercise, avoiding toxins like tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption can reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer. So, for example, we know that smoking is directly linked to the risk of lung cancer. Having a healthy BMI lowers your risk of endometrial cancer. So here’s how some of these healthy lifestyles can prevent you from getting cancer.

Now you also asked how it can help once someone has a diagnosis and is in treatment. You know, having a healthy body gets you through some of these really tough treatments. And, you know, I’ve often explained to my patients that major cancer surgery is often like running a marathon and having a really fit body before you get through that better and have fewer complications . And just like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, these are all very hard things on the body to have a strong body. And the other important part that I haven’t talked about yet is having a healthy mind and having strong support systems for stress and anxiety. In a kind of reflective practice, whether you do yoga and meditation, mental health is just as important as physical health, especially when it comes to cancer.

Kahl: Absolutely. So from an exercise perspective, we know that exercise is good. But can you give some examples of how people can stay active because I think there’s always a misperception that you know we have to run a mile or two miles but I think we can go simpler than that. Can you give us examples for our patients?

Nair: Absolutely. Yes, so it is important to increase the heart rate. So it doesn’t matter how you like to do it. So for some people they like to run. Some people hate running maybe you prefer swimming or both. Go for vigorous walks. Go for a bike ride. The goal is to raise your heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes about three to four times a week.

Kahl: Absolutely. And then, similarly with diet, why is diet important when you’re in treatment, but also these long-term effects? And are there examples of the types of diets our patients should be looking for?

Nair: So really, it’s a well-balanced diet with, you know, a balance between the different food groups. And some things like we’re looking at patients, risks, and outcomes of surgery, having a healthy amount of protein in your diet improves your ability to recover from surgery. But the goal is really to eat a well-balanced diet and maintain it as much as possible during and after treatment.

Kahl: Absolutely. And so, to wrap it all up, what is your biggest piece of advice for a gynecological cancer patient who may be interested in making changes towards a healthier lifestyle, now that she has been diagnosed?

Nair: I would say my biggest piece of advice would be to pick one or two things you want to try to change. Don’t try to change everything all at once. Because it’s too hard for one person. So pick one or two things you want to change. Try doing that. It often works best when people make a change as a family unit. So if you’re trying to eat healthier or exercise more regularly, try to make it a family activity, as it’s more likely to last if you do it together.

Transcript edited for clarity and conciseness.

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