This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions section for questions to ask and for more resources.
Many people, including cancer survivors, can benefit from a healthy lifestyle. Good nutrition, exercise, and other healthy behaviors may help your body heal from physical harm cancer and treatment may have caused.
Activities that promote wellness and health in your life after a cancer diagnosis may be totally different from what you did before cancer. In some cases, you may be less active for a while and more active after treatment. Even with physical limitations, there are still things you can do to maximize your health. It may mean learning new ways to do the things you enjoy. Discuss this with your doctor. He or she can help identify ways to maximize your health and incorporate changes into a self-care plan for healthy living.
What is a self-care plan for healthy living?
A self-care plan for healthy living can help survivors decide on behaviors to help them feel better during cancer treatment and beyond. This is a plan that you can develop with members of your health care team. The plan provides practical ideas for maintaining a healthy lifestyle during your cancer journey.
A self-care plan should include recommendations for the following:
• Physical activity
• Nutritional recommendations
• Stress reduction
• Medical care
Each survivor has unique needs. Always consult with your health care team and discuss your medical history when developing your self-care plan. Your plan may differ from other survivors in a variety of ways including recommended diet and activities. Your plan should include daily activities chosen specifically for you in order to support a healthy lifestyle. A good plan can help improve your quality of life. It may also help lower your risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Many cancer survivors find that they feel better if they incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily routine. It is important to remember that not everyone’s healthy behaviors are going to be the same. Eating right for your health needs and including some exercise that relates to your recovery needs may improve how you feel. It may also reduce your risk for cancer and other major health problems. A good self-care plan may help you avoid these risks. Ask your healthcare team about your particular risk factors so you know what things you should avoid.
Some major risk factors for cancer include:
• Not getting the nutrition your body needs
• Being overweight
• Drinking too much alcohol
• Using tobacco products
• Spending too much time in the sun without protections
Even if you feel fine, you can benefit from incorporating healthy behaviors into your daily routine. Survivors who experience physical changes like weakness or changes in their weight after cancer may be more likely to discuss healthy behaviors with their health care team. However, all survivors can benefit from learning what healthy behaviors are good for them during their survivorship.
Healthy behaviors may be helpful in addressing concerns such as:
• Loss of balance
• Stiff muscles and joints
• Weight loss or weight gain
• Problems sleeping
How can a survivor identify the right healthy behaviors?
Discuss any changes in diet or an exercise plan with a member of your health care team before you start. However, you can read about healthy behaviors and bring a list of questions to your next health care appointment. Discuss what you learn from your research to learn whether the information is accurate and if it would be good for your situation. Take the following steps to prepare for your discussion:
• Write down what you eat and drink for a week including any nutritional supplements and herbal products. Find out if you can talk with a nutritionist. Nutritionists can be found through a local hospital or care center. Many cancer centers now have nutritionists who can discuss your food choices with you. This is may be a free service at your care center or local hospital.
• Before developing an exercise plan, discuss what exercises, if any, would be good for you with a member of your health care team. After you understand what exercises are good for your recovery needs, you may want to consult with either a physical therapist or a fitness expert at a local fitness center. Work with your health care team as you decide to increase your activity level.
A self-care plan may include recommendations for healthy behaviors such as:
• Physical activities
Swimming or water aerobics
Gardening and outdoor work
Playing sports you enjoy
Dance or movement classes
• Nutritional recommendations
Eating 5-7 servings daily of fruits and vegetables
Eating plenty of fiber
Eating the right unsaturated fats – up to 20% of total daily calories
Avoiding saturated and trans fats
Drinking 8-10 glasses of water per day
Avoiding salted, pickled or smoked foods
Not eating a lot of red meats
Avoiding smoking and other tobacco use
Drinking little or no alcohol
• Stress reduction activities
Doing things that make you laugh and that you find fun
Doing things that make you feel relaxed
Taking classes or involvement in hobbies like music or painting
Writing in a journal
Praying and meditating
Attending support groups or counseling
• Medical care
Taking your medications as directed
Having regular medical follow-up including screening tests
Knowing what symptoms to look for and when to contact a member of your health care team
As you start thinking about how to improve your level of healthy living, it is important to be realistic. Start slowly, and gradually increase your physical activity levels as prescribed by your doctor. For example, a long-term goal may be to walk a mile, but a short-term goal may be to walk a block. Short-term goals can be modified and added to in order to reach your long-term goals.
Healthy behaviors ensure that you are doing as much as you can to improve how well you heal and how you feel on daily basis. If physical problems continue to affect you after you have been following your self-care plan for a while, there may be other treatment options that can be helpful. This does not mean that you should stop using your self-care plan. However, it may mean that you and your health care team will need to consider making some adjustments to your plan.
This document was produced in collaboration with:
Sue L. Frymark R/N/, B.S.
Executive Director: Cancer Care Resources
Lorig, K., Holman,H., Sobel,D., et al. Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions. Colorado: Bull Publishing, 2000
Brown, J., Byers, T., Doyle, C., et al. “Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: An American Cancer Society Guide for Informed Choices” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 53(2003): 266-291
Healthy Behaviors: Suggestions
The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information.
• What are ways that survivors can incorporate healthy behaviors into their lifestyle?
Talk to your health care team about what diet and exercise plan are best for your recovery needs
Establish some long term goals and also set realistic and specific short term goals to include more healthy behaviors in your life
Explore the different ways you can manage stress better in your daily life
• Explore the best ways to manage stress in your daily life:
Some activities that may help manage stress better include:
Doing activities such as walks, running, cycling or swimming
Getting a massage
Practicing breathing and relaxation techniques
Practicing yoga or Pilates
Spending quality time with friends and loved ones
Talking with a professional therapist
Attending a support group
Making time for hobbies and other things you enjoy
Asking for help with daily activities such as housework, errands, cooking
Writing in a journal
Listening to music
Watching favorite TV shows or movies
Reprinted with permission by LIVESTRONG, 2009. All rights reserved. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. LIVESTRONG.org offers free online information, tools and support services for people affected by cancer and for professionals who provide cancer support.
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