Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight after cancer

Medical advances in technology and treatment mean more and more people are now beating cancer.

If you’re a cancer survivor, leading a healthy lifestyle is key to getting your health back on track. It can also play a part in preventing cancer recurrence and reducing your risk of developing other chronic diseases. Your cancer care team will offer you all the care, support and advice you need. But the lifestyle choices you make are largely down to you.

Being overweight and cancer risk

If you’re overweight or obese, you’re at an increased risk of developing many different types of cancer. Because of this, many cancer survivors are overweight or obese when they are diagnosed with the disease.

And this risk applies even after you’ve received treatment or recovered from cancer. There is evidence to show that being overweight increases your risk of cancer recurrence. One study found that a low-fat diet, which resulted in modest weight loss, reduced the risk of cancer recurrence among postmenopausal breast cancer survivors. Being a healthy weight can also improve your quality of life and reduces any complications you may have as part of your cancer treatment plan.

There will be times during treatment when it’s important not to lose weight or diet. If you’re losing weight quickly, be sure to continue eating and put any dieting on hold.

The role of exercise

Being physically active after you’re diagnosed with cancer can reduce your risk of your cancer recurring. Studies have shown that exercise increases survival rates of people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer. In fact, in one study, exercise prescribed to women who were diagnosed with breast cancer lowered their risk of cancer recurrence by 24 percent.

During such an emotionally and physically demanding time, exercise can also help to improve fatigue, depression and self-esteem after a cancer diagnosis.

If you’re a cancer survivor, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you’re inactive as little as possible. Try to return to your usual activities as soon as you can. There will be points after treatment and during your recovery that you will need to rest. And rest can go a long way in your recovery. But generally, keeping physically active if you feel well enough will help you to feel better quicker.

Eat well and get moving

Life after cancer is the start of a brand new you. Putting your health first will reduce your risk of cancer recurrence as well as developing many other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

  • Exercise regularly. The ACSM recommend that cancer survivors should do the same activity levels as recommended guidelines. In both the US and UK, this is 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
  • You may have specific reasons why you might not want to exercise, either because of how you feel or look, or self-confidence issues. Speak to your cancer care team about anything that may be holding you back from exercising.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t achieve your ideal weight. This can take time and recovering from any cancer treatment you have may delay this. Any amount of weight loss, even as little as five percent, through exercise and a healthy eating will significantly benefit your health.
  • Don’t replace eating a healthy diet with vitamin supplements. If you eat a varied, balanced diet, you should get all the vitamins you need to stay healthy. Research shows that dietary supplements have very little or no benefit after cancer. The one exception is to take vitamin D and calcium supplements if you have had hormone therapies.

The overall message is that maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and healthy eating can help keep you healthy now and long into the future. Advice and support is available from your cancer care team on both exercise and diet. But putting it into practice comes down to you. Taking responsibility for your own health and leading a healthy lifestyle will help you stay healthy and happy long after recovering from cancer.

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