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Exercise and nutrition vital for breast cancer patients

August 12, 2020

A new study by a Bond University researcher has revealed the importance of exercise and nutrition for women while being treated for metastatic breast cancer. 

Barbara van der Meij, a Conjoint Senior Research Dietician at Bond, noticed that women with metastatic breast cancer often had poor appetite and lost weight, affecting their quality of life in their final month or years. 

She made her observations while working at Brisbane’s Mater Cancer Care Centre. 

Dr van der Meij launched a body composition and physical function study, examining muscle mass, physical function and quality of life during chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer. 

Fifteen women were observed for a year, with each undergoing tests at the beginning of the observation period, then at three weeks, six weeks and every three months following.  

Less than a third of the women observed met the guidelines for physical activity, which included exercising for 30 minutes daily, and carrying out resistance training twice a week. Additionally, only one out of 10 women consumed enough dietary protein. 

Dr van der Meij said the findings of the study revealed a need to promote exercise and dietary protein in women with metastatic breast cancer. 

“If you want to be able to maintain muscle, to be able to lift something, to be able to walk, you want to maintain muscle – you need to eat enough protein to build muscle or maintain it, but you also need to use the muscle – like they say, use it or lose it. 

“I think people are not completely aware of how important exercise is.” 

Diet was also critical, Dr van der Meij said. 

“I’m really focussed on improving the quality of life of patients with cancer, and stabilising their muscle mass by making sure their diet is adequate and that they get enough proteins and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.” 

She said hospital and health carers needed to carry a broad message of promoting exercise, noting that the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia recommended cancer patients continued exercise, as it was associated with improved quality of life, and sometimes improved survival times.