Week of November 19, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I’ve never done ballet but keep seeing ballet exercise classes at my community center. Is this a new form of exercise?

A: Ballet exercise classes – also known as Barre classes because of the wall-mounted ballet barres used – are based on training ballet dancers practice, but do not require experience as a ballet dancer. This form of exercise offers a great combination of strengthening your “core” (abdomen and back) along with balance, flexibility and aerobic conditioning. Ballet exercise classes are generally low-impact, but if you have any health issues, talk to the instructor for the particular program you are considering. For example, some classes could include an amount of twisting and turning unsuitable for people with back problems or osteoporosis. One of the key factors in making physical activity a true part of your life is to find options that are fun for you, and many people find that adding a variety of options helps keep it fresh. When you see new options like this listed in your community, don’t hesitate to call or stop by to find out if it’s a good match for you. Starting something new can mean you’ll find it awkward for a while, but don’t let that steer you away. If the instructor indicates it’s a program suitable for beginners, then give it a try.

Q: Is it true that breast cancer survivors are at increased risk of heart disease? As a survivor, should I focus my attention on heart healthy eating or a cancer preventive diet?

A: It is true that the most common cause of death among survivors of early stage breast cancer is heart disease. In large part that reflects good news about how successfully breast cancer is now diagnosed and treated. In some cases, breast cancer survivors face increased heart disease risk as a side effect of particular types of cancer therapies. However, many women who develop breast cancer are already at increased risk of heart disease before they ever get cancer: both heart disease and post-menopausal breast cancer risk increase with excess body fat, lack of physical activity and type 2 diabetes. Unhealthy eating patterns are clearly linked to heart disease and may increase breast cancer risk even outside of effects on overweight. As a breast cancer survivor, don’t feel that you need to divide your attention between steps to promote heart health and steps to reduce risk of cancer. If you haven’t been physically active on a daily basis before now, start slowly and you may want to talk with your doctor about what types of activities and intensity are right for you. Adjust your eating habits to avoid weight gain. We need further research about how breast cancer survivors’ eating patterns can reduce risk of recurrence and second cancers; for now, cancer survivors are advised to follow the same recommendations linked with lower cancer risk for everyone. Fortunately, this also produces a heart-healthy diet, with plenty of antioxidants and fiber from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans and healthy sources of dietary fat.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at


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