Monday Medical: Exercise, mental health important aspects of survivorship

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles focusing on survivorship for people with cancer. The first article focused on the medical aspects of survivorship.

A person becomes a cancer survivor from the moment the diagnosis is made, and they remain one for the rest of their lives.

And while drugs, treatments and medical procedures all play important roles in battling the disease, research shows that other factors such as diet, exercise and mental health are key as well to help people physically and emotionally.

According to a National Institutes of Health study looking at the correlation between positive health behaviors and cancer survivors, lifestyle considerations such as physical activity make an important difference in health outcomes for cancer survivors.

Get moving to slow down cancer

“Data shows that women with breast cancer who exercise have a better quality of life during and after their treatment,” said UCHealth’s Dr. Lavanya Kondapalli, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and director of cardio-oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Another NIH study on women diagnosed with high-risk breast cancer showed that those who regularly exercised before their cancer diagnosis and after treatment were less likely to have their cancer come back. The study collected physical activity data on women before, during and after their cancer treatment.

“We encourage everyone going through cancer treatments to do what they can – even a small amount of activity is helpful,” she said.

Other ways to improve cancer outcomes, both short and long term

  • Eating well: Kondapalli is not as much of a stickler on only eating heart-healthy food for those going through cancer treatments as only certain foods might be appetizing.
    “I give everyone a pass for a while, but once you’re done with your treatments, please return to a nutritious and balanced diet,” she said.
  • Managing stress: “How do you manage your stress? For some that could mean meditating; for others, it helps to speak with a counselor or therapist. Think about self- care and what that means for you,” said Kondapalli.
  • Getting enough sleep: “Keep moving forward,” recommends Kondapalli, “but don’t forget about rest and self-care. We need to prioritize what will keep us healthy.”
  • Exercising: Anything from walking to gardening to specific exercise classes for patients with cancer can help. “Make it a priority and just get your body moving,” she said.

Kondapalli reminds patients to complete annual checkups with their primary care physician and not to forget daily medication for conditions such as diabetes, high-blood pressure or cholesterol. This is especially important for people who continue to work during cancer treatments and are busy with personal and professional demands.

Make smart, proactive choices

“We want survivors to make smart, proactive choices for their long-term health,” said Kondapalli.

She encourages patients to become educated about all aspects and phases of a diagnosis and treatment, as it can help to empower both the patient and family as they navigate the journey.

“For providers, there is nothing better than an educated patient,” she said. “Help us help take better care of you.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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