Lifestyle and well-being

When you feel ready you may decide to think about ways to improve your well-being and long-term health. These could include:

  • stopping smoking (if you do smoke)
  • gradually being more physically active to help your recovery and long-term health
  • eating healthily to help you feel better and keep you to a healthy weight
  • sticking to sensible drinking guidelines to look after your overall health
  • finding helpful ways to reduce stress, such as doing things you enjoy with family and friends, or trying yoga or meditation.

Your cancer team and GP can give you advice on this. They can tell you if there are any health and well-being clinics or events in your area.

Improving your lifestyle after cancer treatment

After treatment and as part of your recovery, you may decide to think about ways to improve your well-being and long-term health. Your cancer team and GP can give you advice on this. You could ask if there are any health and well-being clinics or events in your area. These may be run by volunteers and Macmillan professionals, or by some hospitals. They can give you support and advice on diet, lifestyle and adjusting to life after treatment. We have included a few suggestions on some changes that can have a positive effect on your health and well-being.


    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 an NHS support service or your GP gives you the best chance of success. There are support groups available for people trying to quit, as well as one-to-one support. Ask your GP for advice, or contact one of these national stop smoking services:

    Smokefree (England)

    Telephone: 0300 123 1044 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 8pm, Sat to Sun, 11am to 4pm)

    Smokeline (Scotland)

    Telephone: 0800 84 84 84 (Daily, 8am to 10pm)

    Stop Smoking Wales

    Telephone: 0800 085 2219 (Mon to Thu, 8am to 8pm, Fri, 9am to 5pm, Sat, 9am to 4pm)

    Want2stop (Northern Ireland)

    Be more active

    Gradually being more physically active is an important part of your recovery. It can also improve your long-term health and well-being.

    During treatment, people are often less active than usual. This can make you feel more tired and your muscles lose some strength. Even a little regular physical activity, such as short walks, will help give you more energy and make you feel stronger. It can also help reduce stress and 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.

    Some hospitals have exercise programmes for people recovering from treatment. Your doctor or specialist nurse can tell you what is available in your area. 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.

    Being more physically active can help look after your bones and your heart. It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and bone thinning (osteoporosis). Regular physical activity and keeping to a healthy weight may also reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back and getting another new cancer.

    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.

    Hormonal therapies and early menopause due to cancer treatments can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing or resistance training, help keep bones and muscles strong.

    My oncologist suggested going to the gym. I was lacking in confidence at first, but eventually I started a few activities at a low level and gradually built it up.


    Eat healthily

    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.

    For most people, a healthy balanced diet includes:

    • lots of fruit and vegetables
    • plenty of starchy foods (carbohydrates), such as rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and couscous
    • wholegrains, rather than refined processed grains
    • some protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses (like beans and lentils)
    • only a limited amount of red meat and processed meat
    • some milk and dairy foods, such as cheese, butter and yoghurt
    • just a small amount of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

    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.

    Changes to your weight

    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. Body image is the picture in your mind of how your body looks and works.

    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. After treatment, try to focus on eating healthily to help your recovery. If you are worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.

    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. Following the tips below may help:

    • Only eat as much food as you need.
    • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
    • Limit saturated fats and sugar in your diet.

    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. There are different ways to add calories to food. There are also nutritional drinks and powders you can have to help build up your weight.

    Stick to sensible drinking guidelines

    NHS guidelines recommend that women and men do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week and have a few alcohol-free days each week. A unit of alcohol is half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider, one small glass (125ml) of wine, or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

    Alcohol is linked with an increased risk of some cancers and can lead to weight gain. Sticking to sensible drinking guidelines is good for your overall health.

    There is more information about alcohol and drinking guidelines on the Drinkaware website.

    Find ways to reduce stress

    After treatment, finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety in your life can be helpful. Talking about your feelings with family, friends, a health professional or other people who have been through a similar experience can help.

    Doing things you enjoy, such as spending time with family and friends, socialising or relaxing activities, can help to reduce stress. Recovery takes time, so try to be aware of your limits. Try to ask for help from others when you need it.

    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.

    I take care of myself now and I wouldn’t have done that before. I enjoy life so much more and notice the little things, like the leaves falling or snow outside.


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