Making positive lifestyle changes

Living a healthy lifestyle can help your body recover after treatment. It can also help to reduce the risk of other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and strokes.

After cancer treatment, some people choose to make some positive lifestyle changes. You may have already followed a healthy lifestyle before cancer. But you may be more focused on making the most of your health.

Some hospitals have cancer information centres where staff can talk to you about well-being and groups in your local area to help with this.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, stopping is the healthiest decision you can make. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and developing new cancers. Smoking can also make some late effects of treatment worse, such as bladder or bowel problems.

Giving up smoking is not easy. Using a treatment with help from your GP or an NHS support service gives you the best chance of success. There are also support groups available for people trying to quit, as well as one-to-one support. Ask your GP for advice.

We have more information about giving up smoking.

Be more active

During treatment, people are often less active than usual. This can make you feel more tired and your muscles lose some strength. Even some regular physical activity such as short walks, can help give you more energy, make you feel stronger and improve stress or anxiety. You can gradually build up how much activity you do. Make sure you don’t do too much as this can make you feel more tired.

Aerobic activity such as fast walking, running, skipping, cycling, dancing and swimming can help to protect your heart. This may also help reduce the risk of late effects developing.

Your cancer doctor, nurse or GP can advise you on the type and amount of exercise that is safe for you to do. Some people may need to take special care when exercising.

Eat well and keep to a healthy weight

Eating healthily will help your recovery and give you more energy. It can also help to keep your weight healthy. If you have eating difficulties, get advice from a dietitian or your specialist nurse before making any changes.

Treatments such as surgery to the bowel or radiotherapy to the pelvis may cause changes in how your bowel works. For some people, this may mean a diet high in fibre (fruit and vegetables) may not be suitable. If your treatment has affected the way you eat, follow the advice from your cancer team or dietitian.

Some cancer treatments may cause changes to your weight. This can be upsetting and for some people it can cause concerns about their body image.

Some people gain weight during chemotherapy or as a side effect of hormonal therapies. Others may lose weight because of symptoms, treatments or their side effects.

If you need to lose weight, it is important to do this gradually and along with being more physically active. Try to be patient with yourself.

Keeping to a healthy weight has lots of benefits and reduces your risk of other medical conditions. It may also help to reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.

If you have lost weight and are having difficulties eating, it is important to get advice from a dietitian. We have information about building-up diet.

Stick to sensible drinking guidelines

Alcohol is linked with an increased risk of some cancers and can lead to weight gain. Current NHS guidelines suggest that both men and women should:

  • not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week
  • spread the alcohol units they drink in a week over 3 or more days
  • try to have several alcohol-free days every week.

A unit of alcohol is:

  • half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider
  • one small glass (125ml) of wine
  • a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

There is more information about alcohol and drinking guidelines at drinkaware.co.uk

Try to reduce stress

Recovery takes time, try to ask for help from others when you need it. You might want to talk about your feelings with family, friends, a health professional or other people who have been through a similar experience.

Doing things you enjoy such as spending time with family and friends, socialising or relaxing activities, can help to reduce stress. Regular physical activity, such as walking, can help reduce stress and anxiety. Some complementary therapies, such as relaxation, meditation and yoga, may also help. They may be available at your cancer treatment hospital or through cancer support groups.