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Living Well After Treatment for Cancer: Diet and Exercise Tips

By Judy Schwartz Haley August 02, 2015 Posted in: Cancer Care , Article

After you complete treatment for cancer, diet and exercise play an important role in restoring your strength, energy, and overall health. Think of your cancer treatment as the first half of your overall recovery. While it's certainly lifesaving, it also takes a toll on your body. Often, people find they have less energy and vigor shortly after it ends.

When that happens, it's time for the second half of getting back to the old you: A focus on healthy foods and safe exercise. This winning combination will help you rebuild strength and counteract any post-treatment fatigue.

Eat Well

Focus on nourishing your body with healthy foods. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in place of high-fat and sugary foods should be your main objective. Excess sugar, fat, and calories can weigh you down. Here are some tips for eating right:

  • Think healthy. The stress of worrying about your food intake can be fatiguing, so keep it simple. Focusing on what you will eat is a lot more uplifting than thinking about what you can't eat. So increase those healthy foods rather than avoiding the unhealthy ones. There's plenty of delicious food that's also good for you. Flip through the pages of cookbooks or search online for recipes. Make friends with fresh blueberries and eat them like candy.
  • Be mindful of serving sizes. This should be a major consideration when eating at restaurants; even healthy foods can cause discomfort when eaten to excess. Ask your server to bring you a to go box with your meal. You can slide half of the meal into the box and bring it home for a meal the next day, and avoid overeating at dinner. Even salad dressing can pack on a lot of fat and calories, so consider requesting that it be served on the side.
  • Eat more vegetables and less meat. It's common to plan a meal around the meat dish, but consider having vegetables as your entree. If vegetarian eating isn't your style, compromise by using meat as a side dish or a garnish. At the very least, cut back on red meat and processed meat and get most of your protein from eggs, dairy, nuts, poultry, fish, beans, and leafy greens instead.
  • Watch what you're drinking. This is another area where it's easy to down a lot of unnecessary sugar and calories. Sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices can be extremely high in sugar, and the calories in wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks add up quickly. Water, lemon water, and iced tea might take a little getting used to if you usually drink other beverages, but after a period of adjustment, you will grow accustomed to healthier choices.


Increased physical activity can improve the quality of life for cancer survivors in a number of ways. It may feel like it will tire you out even more, but exercise helps reduce fatigue and generates a great deal more energy. It also helps to reduce depression, which is common among cancer survivors, and can help with the joint pain that accompanies hormone therapy, which is often prescribed. Exercise is good for everybody, of course, as it improves overall physical functioning.

Aim for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The latter can consist of a 30-minute brisk walk (challenging enough to make you breathe a little harder) for five days a week. These recommendations are quite doable, but it helps to make the change gradually. Spend a week taking a short walk every day, and for the next week, make it a little longer. Finding someone to exercise with can make it more fun, and you're less likely to skip a workout if your friend is waiting for you at the door.

It's also a good idea to limit the time you spend sitting. Consider reducing TV time, or get up and stretch or do exercises in place during commercials. Think of your new exercise plan as being made up of small, incremental changes that add up to big positives for your health and well-being.

After treatment is over, your recovery is only halfway finished. If you are one of the many people finding ways to thrive after cancer, diet and exercise are already well-known tactics to you. Continue to make them a main focus, and you'll reclaim your body before you know it.

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