Living with Cancer: Physical Health
In addition to maintaining your mental and emotional health after receiving a cancer diagnosis [link to Emotional Health post], you will also want to maintain a healthy physical lifestyle. Depending on your specific situation, this may or may not come with some lifestyle changes, but understanding your limitations and building your strength are important.
Here are some suggestions on how to maintain your physical health while living with cancer.
Get enough sleep.
One of the most important things is to try to get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep each night. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) suggests that you try setting a bedtime for yourself and keeping it as consistent as possible, both during the week and on the weekend. Also keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid screen time on tablet or mobile devices before bed.
Know your physical limits.
Your cancer treatment will likely cause physical fatigue. If you don’t have the energy to go out to dinner with your friends or take on that extra volunteer work, don’t be afraid to politely decline. Taking care of your physical health is important at this time in your life; pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion is not helpful.
In addition, take a look at your weekly schedule and make modifications as necessary. With medical appointments and additional fatigue, allow yourself some grace and give yourself extra time to complete some of your regular day-to-day tasks. While spending time with family and friends is important to your mental health, if it comes at the cost of exhaustion, it may be best to reschedule.
Both aerobic and strength exercises are beneficial to your treatment, as research has shown that regular exercise can help reduce cancer-related fatigue. Work with your doctor to establish a fitness regimen that makes sense for your specific situation.
In addition, try to avoid sitting for long periods of time and find moments in your day for short walks or standing time. Even small lifestyle changes like these can have a big impact on your physical well-being.
Eat more vegetables.
There are lots of different dietary suggestions to help improve your physical health during treatment, one of which being to eat more vegetables. ASCO recommends that vegetables become the “centerpiece” of meals, not just a small side.
In addition, ASCO recommends foods high in fiber like beans, nuts, and whole grains, and probiotic foods like yogurt or pickles. Omega-3 fats from salmon, trout, and avocado are also beneficial.
Eat less red meat.
On the opposite side of the dietary spectrum, it is recommended that you limit red meats like beef and pork as well as processed meats like lunch meat and sausage.
ASCO also recommends limiting foods that are high in caloric intake but low in nutrients, like soda, candy, and other sweets. It’s also best to not eat as many “white” foods, such as white bread or white rice.
Limit alcohol intake.
While it’s not forbidden, it is best to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink during your treatment. ASCO recommends a maximum of one drink per day for women and one or two drinks for men.
As before, we encourage you to talk to your care team about all aspects of your physical health before, during, and after your cancer treatment. Ask for referrals to dietitians and trainers who can help tailor specific plans to your needs.
- “6 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cancer Care,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/blog/2018-09/6-lifestyle-changes-improve-your-cancer-care)
- “Alcohol,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/prevention-and-healthy-living/alcohol)
- “An Exercise Program for You: 5 Tips for People with Cancer,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/blog/2018-09/exercise-program-you-5-tips-people-with-cancer)
- “Managing Stress,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/managing-stress)
- “Spotlight On: Oncology Dieticians,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/blog/2016-02/spotlight-oncology-dietitians)