Multiple past studies have found that a healthy diet and regular physical activity each increase survival after breast cancer.
But scientists at University of California, San Diego, wanted to know if combining regular exercise with healthy eating would produce even better outcomes in preventing breast cancer. Would the whole be larger than the sum of the parts?
It was. Observing 1,490 women who had been treated about two years earlier for breast cancer, the scientists found that those who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily and exercised about 30 minutes six days a week (most took brisk walks) were nearly 50% less likely to die within a 10-year period than their peers.*
Among the 1,490 women, a healthy diet alone and exercise alone did not add up to the same benefit.
Moreover, the effects of healthy eating plus exercise were so strong that “the approximate 50% reduction in risk associated with these healthy lifestyle behaviors was observed in both obese and nonobese women,” noted lead author John P. Pierce, PhD, and his team at UCSD’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program. Fewer obese women, however, were physically active and following a healthy diet (16% versus 30% of the 1,490 women).
The data “add to a growing body of literature that lifestyle does matter in breast cancer prognosis,” summed up Drs. Rachel Ballard-Barbash of the National Cancer Institute and Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Increasing physical activity to 30 to 60 minutes per day and upping intake of vegetables and fruits is recommended for reducing risk for several diseases, “and now seems to aid in improving breast cancer prognosis,” Drs. Ballard-Barbah and McTiernan concluded.
* Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2007: 25 (17): 2345.