A Healthy Lifestyle and the Impact on Recovery
- "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Teddi Mellencamp, 41, promotes a healthy lifestyle and credits diet and exercise for building her physical and mental health in the face of challenges.
- The reality TV star has had 11 melanomas, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
- Dr. Sairah Ahmed, associate professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet that "diet, exercise, and stress control" can help keep you healthy for treatment and also create a sense of normalcy as you try to return to regular life.
- Krista Maruschak, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends six small meals throughout the day. A balanced diet can help cancer patients undergoing treatment better withstand the rigors of chemotherapy and minimize side effects like weight loss.
- When it comes to exercise, it “improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function," researchers said in a study published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Teddi Mellencamp, 41, isn't letting anything stop her from living a healthy and active lifestyle – even 11 instances of the most dangerous type of skin cancer. The reality TV star is often seen on social media breaking a sweat, and she credits her healthy habits for getting her through some incredibly tough times recently.
Her determination to stay fit is a reminder to cancer survivors everywhere that a healthy lifestyle can not only improve the quality of life for cancer patients but can help reduce anxiety as well. (Though the steps you take don’t have to look exactly like hers!)Read More
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Mellencamp was a popular member of RHOBH until she left the show in 2020 and began making guest appearances. She's also the daughter of Grammy-award-winning singer John Mellencamp.
She previously shared that she has had 11 melanomas, which is the most serious form of skin cancer, on her body. And Mellencamp explained that she has experienced anxiety around testing marks on her skin and waiting to hear if it’s cancer.
Mellencamp clearly finds strength in the physical and mental health benefits of exercise and healthy living.
"To make a life-lasting long-term, sustainable shift you have to hold yourself accountable to your overall physical and mental healthâ€¦8 years from now. I'll still be posting sweaty selfies," Mellencamp added.
How Staying Fit Benefits Cancer Survivors’ Overall Health
Keeping a healthy lifestyle, just as Teddi Mellencamp is (though not everyone may have the same routines), is something experts that SurvivorNet spoke with encourage cancer survivors and their loved ones to practice.
"In terms of cancer, oftentimes patients feel that they don't have any control over any part of their life and that's not true," Dr. Sairah Ahmed, associate professor in the Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
Dr. Ahmed says "diet, exercise, and stress control" are important components when someone is going through treatment or moving on from it. Focusing on these areas can help keep you healthy for treatment and also create a sense of normalcy as you try to return to regular life.
However, she cautions to be on the lookout for gimmicks when maintaining a sustainable diet and exercise habits.
"I'm asked about keto diets, alkaline diets, no-sugar diets," she says.
"Often, I will tell patients there is not any one diet that has a better potential to keep their cancer away. There's no data that shows that any of those help to treat cancer any better," Dr. Ahmed adds.
"You want to have a moderate diet where you're including lots of fruits and vegetables but you're still eating fat and protein and you want to maintain physical exercise," she explained.
Krista Maruschak, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic, says your diet while undergoing chemotherapy helps minimize potential side effects.
"When the patient is in chemotherapy, we really just want to manage their side effects, and we want to maintain their weight," Maruschak previously told SurvivorNet.
Maruschak recommends six small meals throughout the day. She also suggests adding side items like olive oil, avocado, dairy, peanut butter, nuts, and hummus to boost calories and protein.
In addition to managing the side effects of chemo, a balanced diet helps your weight remain consistent during treatment while avoiding unwanted weight loss.
When it comes to exercise, building up muscle has its benefits.
"The more physically fit you are going through your cancer treatment, the less side effects you'll have and the faster you'll get back to your normal quality of life," Dr. Ahmed says.
Expert Melanoma Resources
- A Biopsy of Your Mole Doesn’t Mean You Have Melanoma
- A Melanoma Vaccine for Metastatic Patients
- Am I at High Risk for Melanoma?
- Be Aware of the Side Effects of Targeted Therapy for Melanoma
- Beating Aggressive Melanoma: An Immunotherapy Success Story
- Atypical Moles Don't Necessarily Mean You Have Melanoma
- Examining Your Skin for Melanoma: Remember ABCDE
How Can You Develop a Healthy Lifestyle That Gives You the Edge in a Cancer Battle?
To be clear: all the doctors we have spoken with tell us there is no "cancer diet," meaning there are no guidelines specific for people with cancer. The general recommendations for a healthy lifestyle are the same whether you have cancer or not.
However, Dr. Ken Miller, the Director of Outpatient Oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, has some guidelines for cancer survivors who are concerned about a recurrence:
- Exercise at least two hours a week, and this includes walking if rigorous exercise is too much for you to handle right now.
- Moderate fat and carbs. The Women's Intervention Nutrition Study, which looked at early-stage breast cancer, found that a low-fat diet was associated with reduced risk for cancer recurrence in certain patients. Other studies found that foods with a high glycemic index (such as carbohydrates like soft drinks and white bread) that are digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar may lead to tumor growth in lung cancer patients.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Studies have shown that being obese can increase your risk for several types of cancer.
Don't Forget About Your Mental Health
"Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function," researchers said in a study published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Mental health refers to our emotional and psychological well-being. Our mental health can affect how we think, feel, and behave. Triggers like stress, traumatic events, or change in your physical health can affect mental health.
Research from the University of Oslo also found "those who had exercised regularly had a significantly lower incidence of anxiety than those who had not engaged in physical activity."
When we think about living a healthy lifestyle and the advantages it has for cancer survivors, we must remember to keep our whole body in mind.
WATCH: What is positive psychology and how it can help cancer survivors?
Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychologist, recommends positive psychology as a coping strategy if you find yourself in a stressful situation and need to reevaluate your mental health.
Positive psychology is an approach to mental well-being that focuses more on a person's strengths and how they can help themselves rather than just trying to curb individual symptoms and/or diagnose a disorder.
"We know that it’s one thing to get rid of negative emotions and to manage them. But also positive emotions have unique benefits above and beyond managing negative emotions," Dr. Boardman previously explained to SurvivorNet.
"Where do they find positive emotions? What provides a sense of engagement for them? â€¦So promoting these positive sort of constructs and actions and activities and emotions in their lives is a way, and I think a very important resource and oasis, for building positive mental health," Dr. Boardman continued.
To keep your mental health in check, it's important to be aware of signs which can be subtle that something is affecting your mind. These signs include:
- A change in eating or sleeping habits
- Losing interest in people or usual activities
- Experiencing little or no energy
- Numb and/or hopeless feelings
- Turning to drink or drugs more than usual
- Non-typical angry, upset, or on-edge feelings
- Yelling/fighting with loved ones
- Experiencing mood swings
- Intrusive thoughts
- Trouble getting through daily tasks
If you find yourself experiencing any of these feelings, contact your doctor because there may be mental health support available to you.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you find yourself facing a cancer diagnosis and need help preparing for your journey, beginning with your physical and mental health is a great start. Here are some questions you can ask your doctor to help you get started.
- After sharing your typical diet with your doctor, ask what changes he or she recommends you make.
- What areas of my body do you think I can focus more on in the gym to best prepare myself for cancer treatment?
- When going through treatment, how can I stay active?
- Are there interventions beyond medication for my depressed or anxious feelings?
- How can I go about finding and nourishing these positive emotions?
- What can I do if I'm struggling to maintain a sense of positivity?
- What lifestyle factors can I adjust to feel better mentally?