6 mins. read

Lifestyle changes to make after cancer

living well after cancer Perci Health

Key takeaways

  • Mental health and physical health are interconnected: Taking care of your body through activity, balanced eating and quality sleep can improve your mental health and self-esteem.
  • Get support from others: Talk to your GP if you’d like personal health advice or access to resources. You can ask friends and family to help you achieve your fitness goals by walking or attending classes with you, for example.
  • You don’t have to change everything at once: Lifestyle changes take time to become habits. Do what you can and make small, gradual shifts for the best chance of success.

After cancer treatment ends, many people reflect on their lifestyle and look to make changes that can improve their overall wellbeing and long-term health.

While positive lifestyle recommendations are mostly the same for those living beyond cancer and the general population, there are added benefits to practising a healthy lifestyle after cancer treatment. It can help you to feel more in control of your life during what can be a difficult transition period and can also reduce the risk of developing other illnesses and of cancer recurrence.

Our guide outlines some achievable habits that you can adopt that can contribute to living well after cancer.

Keep active

During cancer treatment, it’s normal to not be as active as usual and this break in activity can cause tiredness and a loss of muscle. Once treatment ends, regular exercise can help you to regain strength and tackle fatigue. In addition, exercise also:

  • Improves stamina
  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Contributes to a positive mood
  • Benefits your organs and other bodily systems
  • Strengthens bones
  • Helps with weight management

Adding physical activity to your routine can be done in several ways. You can start by simply making more of a conscious effort to move your body. For example, take the stairs instead of the lift or park further away from your destination and walk the difference. If you like a little more structure, then research what exercise groups are running in your local area or find a personal trainer that can create a tailored fitness plan for you.

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet will ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need and aren’t missing out on anything important, help keep your body weight within a healthy range, support your immune function, support your physical health, including muscle function, bone density, digestive health and energy levels, and support your mental health by helping your brain function and mood. Around that last point, remember that what we eat affects not just our bodies, but our brains, and how we think and feel, too.

​​We should all be aiming to eat a predominantly plant-based diet where possible, and actively considering how we can eat a wide variety of plant foods throughout the week. These include fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, as well as herbs and spices. Think less about portion size, and more about diversity. The target is to include plant foods from each of those categories. 

Maintain a healthy weight

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight reduces the likelihood of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and hypertension. If you are finding eating after cancer treatment difficult, and have lost weight as a result, establishing which foods you find palatable and eating smaller but more frequent meals can help you reach a healthy weight. You may also benefit from asking your GP for advice.

If you want to lose weight, we recommend contacting a dietician who is specially qualified to work with people to manage complex conditions such as cancer. They will be trained not only in diet and nutrition but also in the medical aspects of your treatment, such as the effects of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. 

Manage stress

The emotional impact of cancer can have a significant impact on your overall wellbeing. You may be dealing with survivor’s guilt, or grieving the life you had before your diagnosis. Stress can cause physical and emotional side effects, including sleep problems, chest pain, irritability and worry. Being able to effectively manage stress can greatly improve your quality of life.

Ways to manage stress include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Talking therapy
  • Exercise
  • Attending cancer support groups
  • Talking to friends and family
  • Making time for hobbies and things you enjoy

Don’t smoke

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the United Kingdom and causes around 70% of all lung cancer cases. Smoking also damages the heart and blood circulatory system and can cause cancer in other parts of the body, too.

Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your health, however, it isn’t easy to do. Getting support can boost your likelihood of success. The NHS have a dedicated quit smoking support service and can also signpost you to your local free Stop Smoking Service.

Get enough sleep

Many people living with or beyond cancer have trouble sleeping. This can be a result of the side effects of treatment, pain, and/or stress, among other things. However, getting enough sleep is essential to give your body time to rest and repair, and for improving brain function. Plus, feeling well-rested makes you feel better physically and mentally overall.

Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. To optimise your chances of a good night’s sleep:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Minimise your use of electronics before bed
  • Refrain from drinking caffeine for several hours before your usual bedtime
  • Ensure the room you sleep in is dark, comfortable, and cool
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime

Moderate your alcohol intake

The NHS advises that you should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week regularly. Alcohol has many short and long-term health risks, including accidents and injury, alcohol poisoning, stroke, cancer, and liver disease. If you are living with and beyond cancer, really try to minimise your alcohol intake, and aim to have at least two – if not three – consecutive alcohol-free days per week.

If you’d like more advice about managing your lifestyle after cancer, Perci is here to help. We offer a range of support types including psychotherapy, dietetics, and life coaching. Here for anyone who is impacted by cancer, our specialists offer safe and confidential virtual clinics. You can find out more about our experts, as well as book online appointments with them by creating a Perci Health account.