Exercise, diet and healthy living with cancer

Physical activity can be an important part of your recovery after cancer treatment.

During treatment, even just spending less time sitting down and taking short walks can help. Being active has many benefits and can help to:

  • reduce tiredness and some treatment side effects
  • reduce anxiety and depression
  • improve your mood and quality of life
  • strengthen your muscles, joints and bones
  • look after your heart and reduce the risk of other health problems

Being active at recommended levels and keeping to a healthy weight may reduce the risk of certain cancers coming back.

If you are not used to exercising or haven’t exercised for a while, you may worry you’re not going to be able to keep it going. Being active doesn’t mean you have to exercise intensely. To start with it can be as simple as going for short walks, doing things around the house or gardening.

As you gradually build up your strength, you can choose an activity you enjoy. Walking, dancing, yoga, running, cycling are some of the many activities that will help you become fitter and healthier. You’ll find that you have more energy and you’ll feel better.

Diet and healthy eating

Eating a balanced diet is one of the best choices you can make for your overall health. Keeping to a healthy weight will help you maintain or regain your strength and have more energy. It can also reduce the risk of new cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Making changes to your diet is not always easy. It may be more difficult if you are coping with cancer and having treatment. You could make changes gradually so that it is easier to eat differently.

A balanced, healthy diet contains a variety of foods. Knowing about the different food types makes it easier to make choices about your diet. Your GP, specialist nurse or a dietitian can give you advice.

Fruit and vegetables are a key part of a healthy diet. Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Starchy foods and fibre give us more energy so it’s good to eat brown rice, beans and wholegrain bread.

Protein from meat, fish and pulses helps our body cells grow and repair.

Alcohol can increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Cutting down the amount of alcohol we drink can lead to a healthier lifestyle.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Keeping to a healthy weight reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Managing your weight can also reduce the risk of developing certain cancer types and the risk of some cancers coming back.

You can work out your healthy weight by calculating your BMI (Body Mass Index).

Your BMI enables you to see if you are overweight or underweight:

  • less than 18.5 is underweight
  • between 18.5 and 24.9 is a healthy weight
  • between 25 and 29.9 is overweight 
  • a BMI over 30 is obese

The results of the BMI are interpreted differently in older people and in people from South Asia. Measuring your waist can also help you determine if you’re above your healthy weight.

If you are overweight it’s a good idea to try to lose weight gradually. Aim to lose between 0.5 and 1 kg (1 to 2lbs) each week. Your doctor and dietitian can advise and support you.

Stopping smoking

If you’re a smoker, choosing to stop is a decision that will benefit your health. Smoking increases the risk of several types of cancer. It can also lead to heart and lung diseases. If you are coping with a cancer diagnosis, you may find it stressful to give up smoking. However, research has shown that non-smokers have fewer side effects during cancer treatment. If you are ready to stop, giving up smoking will help you feel better and be healthier.

You’ll find that giving up smoking has many benefits:

  • health benefits – your doctor can discuss this with you and explain how smoking affects your body
  • financial benefits – giving up smoking could allow you to save up to £2,000 a year
  • physical benefits – our skin will look better
  • benefits to your family – you’ll protect them against the damaging effects of passive smoking

Read more about giving up smoking

Last updated:
03 July 2024

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