Lifestyle changes after treatment of colorectal cancer
Having cancer and dealing with treatment can take a lot of time and energy, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. Maybe you are thinking about how to improve your health over the long term.
Make healthier choices
Think about your life before you learned you had cancer. Were there things you did that might have made you less healthy? Maybe you drank too much alcohol, ate more than you needed, used tobacco, or didn't exercise very often.
For many people, finding out they have cancer helps them focus on their health in ways they may not have thought much about in the past. Are there things you could do that might make you healthier? Maybe you could try to eat better or get more exercise. Maybe you could cut down on the alcohol, or give up tobacco. Even things like keeping your stress level under control may help. Now is a good time to think about making changes that can have good effects for the rest of your life. You will feel better and you will also be healthier.
You can start by working on those things that worry you most. Get help with those that are harder for you. For instance, if you are thinking about quitting smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society for information and support.
Eating right can be hard for anyone, but it can get even tougher during and after cancer treatment. Treatment may change your sense of taste. Nausea can be a problem. You may not feel like eating and lose weight when you don't want to. Or you may have gained weight that you can't seem to lose. All of these things can be very frustrating.
If treatment caused weight changes or eating or taste problems, do the best you can and keep in mind that these problems usually get better over time. You may find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours until you feel better. You may also want to ask your cancer team about seeing a dietitian, an expert in nutrition who can give you ideas on how to deal with these treatment side effects.
One of the best things you can do after cancer treatment is start healthy eating habits. You may be surprised at the long-term benefits of these simple changes:
- Increase the variety of healthy foods you eat.
- Try to eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grain foods instead of those made with white flour and sugars.
- Try to limit meats that are high in fat.
- Cut back on processed meats like hot dogs, bologna, and bacon. Better yet, don't eat any of these, if you can.
- If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks a day at the most.
Rest, fatigue, and exercise
Feeling tired (fatigue) is a very common problem during and after cancer treatment. This is not a normal type of tiredness but a "bone-weary" exhaustion that doesn't get better with rest. For some people, fatigue lasts a long time after treatment and can keep them from staying active. But physical activity can actually help reduce fatigue and the sense of depression that sometimes comes with feeling so tired.
If you are very tired, though, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is OK to rest when you need to. To learn more about fatigue, please see our documents Fatigue in People With Cancer and Anemia in People With Cancer.
If you were very ill or weren't able to do much during treatment, it is normal that your fitness, staying power, and muscle strength declined. You need to find an activity plan that fits your own needs. Talk with your health care team before starting. Get their input on your exercise plans. Then try to get an exercise buddy so that you're not doing it alone.
Exercise can improve your physical and emotional health.
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- It makes your muscles stronger.
- It reduces fatigue.
- It lowers anxiety and depression.
- It can make you feel generally happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
And long term, we know that getting regular physical activity plays a role in helping to lower the risk of some cancers, as well as having other health benefits.
Last Medical Review: 10/15/2014
Last Revised: 12/31/2014