Exercise Benefits, Insurance and Nutrition Counseling, Breakfast and Weight Control

Q: If I take time off from my usual exercise routine, will I immediately lose the fitness benefits I’ve gained?
Q: Does health insurance cover nutrition counseling during cancer treatment?
Q: How important is breakfast for weight control?


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


Q: If I take time off from my usual exercise routine, will I immediately lose the fitness benefits I’ve gained?

A: When it comes to fitness, the saying, “Use it or lose it” actually rings true. But just how quickly you lose ground depends on how fit you are to start and the length of time you’ve been exercising. In general, deconditioning begins after two or three weeks of inactivity. Fitness fanatics who suddenly stop exercising will likely lose aerobic condition and strength more slowly, retaining some of their stamina even months later. Those new to exercise, however, can lose all the fitness gains they’ve made within weeks if their regimen is interrupted. Yet, holidays, vacations and illness can derail even the most committed athlete. So how do you stall the inevitable drop in fitness if you can’t (or don’t want to) continue your usual physical activity? Studies show that people who decrease time or frequency of activity instead of cutting it out completely can stave off deconditioning. In other words, if you walk for 60 minutes every day and need to cut-back, try walking for 30 minutes daily or, walk 60 minutes three days a week. If time is at even more of a premium, try breaking exercise into two or three smaller blocks of time each day, 10 or 15 minutes each.

Q: Does health insurance cover nutrition counseling during cancer treatment?
A: Nutrition counseling is a recommended part of cancer treatment. Maintaining good nutritional status and a healthy weight is important for patients undergoing cancer treatment and may help to increase the success of their therapy. In fact, studies show that patients who receive appropriate nutritional support early on are more likely to complete a course of uninterrupted radiation therapy, have fewer and shorter unplanned hospital admissions and experience fewer side effects of certain treatments. Although Medicare does not currently pay for nutrition counseling related to cancer treatment, private insurance companies often do. Moreover, many treatment facilities, recognizing the important role nutrition plays in cancer treatment, have begun to include nutrition services as part of their care package at no additional cost to the patient. If nutrition counseling is not currently covered by your insurance provider, be sure to ask if your treatment facility provides any services.

Q: How important is breakfast for weight control?
A: Skipping your morning meal may seem like a logical way to cut calories and help with weight control; however, this is not usually the case. Although the research is limited, studies link the practice of frequently skipping breakfast with having a higher body mass index (BMI), a measure of overweight. This is not to suggest that avoiding breakfast causes overweight. Perhaps the association exists because people who are already overweight skip meals as a weight-loss tactic. Either way, skipping a morning meal usually spells trouble for dieters. People who avoid breakfast are more likely to snack impulsively and tend to eat more throughout the rest of the day. On the other hand, eating a good, nutritionally balanced breakfast will energize you and satisfy hunger through the morning. Start the day with whole-grain bread or cereal, fruits or vegetables and a modest amount of protein. Good protein sources include peanut butter, low-fat yogurt, nuts and eggs or egg whites. As an added bonus, eating a healthy breakfast rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains will also provide antioxidants, vitamins and phytochemicals that may help protect you against cancer and heart disease.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research

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