After a cancer diagnosis, many people want to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating better, exercising more, and finding better ways to manage stress. Although practicing healthy habits is important for everyone, it is especially important for cancer survivors because they can be at a higher risk for other health problems as a result of cancer treatment. Some of these health concerns include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Heart problems, such as congestive heart failure
- Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and fractures
- High blood pressure
Changing eating habits is often one of the first things people do when trying to live healthier. This strategy is helpful because it can help people regain strength after cancer treatment. Nutritious eating can also lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Many experts recommend eating plant-based foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and grains) and foods low in fat. Another suggestion is to achieve an ideal body weight. Research studies are exploring the link between vitamin D and cancer risk. Read more about vitamin D , and get more general nutrition recommendations , and recommendations during and after treatment .
A registered dietitian (RD) can help people change their eating habits and provide personalized recommendations. Find a dietitian at www.eatright.org , or talk with your doctor for more information.
Exercise is an important part of healthy living. Exercise can help survivors manage fatigue, lose or maintain weight, improve heart health, manage stress, and improve mood and self-esteem. In multiple studies of 40,000 people with colon cancer showed that people who exercise regularly have a 40% to 50% lower risk of colon cancer, compared with those who don't exercise regularly. Regular exercise also reduces the risk of polyps, growths in the colon that can turn into cancer. High levels of physical activity have also been shown to help lower breast cancer risk, no matter the woman's risk level. And, additional exercise yields lowers risk even more.
Finding motivation to begin exercising can be difficult. For example, side effects, such as fatigue or sleeping problems, can interfere with lifestyle changes. Some people may want to consult a certified health and fitness professional. Try searching for one through the American College of Sports Medicine .
Here are some tips to help you start exercising:
- Remember that any exercise helps. People who have been inactive for a long time may want to start with 10 minutes of walking a day.
- Combine exercise with everyday activities, such as walking to the store, taking the stairs, or by parking farther away from an entrance.
- Combine exercise with other activities, such as watching television or listening to music.
- Find an exercise partner or group. Exercising with other people not only keeps a person motivated, it also provides some friendly support.
- For those coping with fatigue, try to exercise when fatigue is lowest.
Other healthy lifestyle tips
Here are some more suggestions to help live a healthier life:
Stay in touch with the health care team. Your doctor and other health care professionals can recommend and schedule follow-up care appointments, answer questions about medications, and refer you to other specialists and support resources. Ask your doctor and other health care team members to help you fill out a cancer treatment plan and summary .
Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting smoking, even after a cancer diagnosis, can improve your recovery and overall health. Read more about quitting smoking , and get answers to some common questions about quitting .
Cope with difficult feelings. Feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of recurrence (return of cancer after treatment) can slow a person's recovery and bring about new physical problems, such as sleeplessness, headaches, and stomach problems. Journaling , joining a support group , and practicing relaxation techniques are some techniques one may find helpful. Read more about managing stress  and coping with the fear of recurrence .
Make time for fun. Get together with friends, watch a movie, walk the dog, or play with your kids. Laughter can reduce anxiety and improve a person's mood. Learn more about coping with cancer through humor .
Last Updated: February 08, 2010