Healthy Habits in Survivorship

As a survivor, you should know that living a healthy lifestyle after treatment is just as important as when you were being treated for cancer. Once you move into survivorship, your nutritional needs may change, but eating right and exercising continue to offer multiple health benefits. Following the same nutrition guidelines that are used to help prevent cancer will improve your strength and help you continue to feel better.

When your treatment ends, you may find it difficult to go back to the way life used to be. The first few months will be a time of change — from your finances and eating habits to your emotional well-being. Give yourself time to adapt to these changes, but don’t slip back into pre-treatment eating habits.

Healthy eating after treatment helps reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or secondary cancers. It also aids in monitoring other health conditions you may have, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which have been linked to cancer. One way to help you keep up the healthy habits you had during treatment is to make nutrition part of your survivorship plan. Talk with the dietitian on your medical team or your doctor during your follow-up visits about any nutrition concerns you have.

Make Healthy Food Choices

Although there are general nutrition guidelines everyone can follow, healthy eating is slightly different for every survivor. Keep in mind that no single food has all of the vitamins and nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups, including raw and cooked fruits and vegetables; whole wheat, grains and oats; and beans, lentils and peas so that you can get all of the nutrients your body needs from your food.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, fats and dairy.
  • Try to consume fats from beneficial sources, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish.
  • Aim to eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Choose low-fat milk products, such as one-percent or skim milk, and lower-fat cheeses, such as mozzarella.
  • Limit the amount of red meat and processed meat you eat to no more than three to four servings a week.
  • Reduce your consumption of refined sugars.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. However, your doctor may advise you to not have alcohol at all depending on the type of cancer you had.

Focus on Weight Management

Good nutrition choices are important after treatment because maintaining a healthy weight is essential, especially if treatment caused you to lose or gain weight.

If you’re trying to prevent weight gain, it’s important to watch portion size. One serving of meat, fish or poultry is about three to four ounces, which is approximately the size of a deck of cards. Substituting more fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in fiber, for higher-calorie side dishes and snacks may help with weight control.

Dietitians can discuss any restrictions you may have and help you set and reach nutritional goals, which may include weight loss, weight gain or just learning how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle after treatment. Your dietitian can help you create a nutritious, balanced eating plan, tailored specifically to you.

Stay Active

In addition to eating a nutrition-filled diet, another healthy lifestyle choice for survivors is being physically active. Participating in physical activities or regular exercise can help you feel better overall. Although it may not seem to make sense, physical exercise is actually the best treatment for fatigue. Studies have shown that people with cancer who exercise regularly feel less tired and have more energy.

Fatigue and lack of exercise, combined with steroid treatment, may cause weight gain. Counting calories and increasing physical activity may help you lose extra weight.

Think about the type of physical activity you enjoy most and do it daily, or as often as you can tolerate. Modify your favorite form of exercise if it causes any pain or discomfort, rather than discontinue it. Remember to use sunscreen if your activities are outdoors.

Whether you exercise before, during or after treatment consult your doctor, who may suggest specific exercises, the amount of activity you should do and at what level depending on your unique circumstances. Your doctor may recommend exercises depending on your fitness level after treatment ends and any physical limitations you may have. Once your doctor clears you for physical activity, start off slowly and build up your endurance, even if you’ve been a life-long exerciser. It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate activity or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous activity each week.

It may be helpful to consider nutrition and exercise as treatments your body needs to continue to be well. Remember, you’re in control of the choices you make about nutrition and exercise, and smart choices will help you live the healthiest life possible.