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Nutrition and Exercise for Cancer Survivors

A healthy lifestyle is important after cancer treatment. Good nutrition and regular exercise can:

  • Reduce your risk of cancer (new or recurrence)
  • Help relieve long-term side effects of treatment
  • Lessen feelings of sadness and improve mood
  • Improve your heart and lung health and lower the risk of heart disease
  • Help lose or maintain weight
  • Increase energy, endurance, strength and flexibility
  • Lessen the effects of stress, anxiety and fatigue
  • Help maintain normal bowel function

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Most experts agree that cancer survivors should maintain a diet for cancer prevention. The recommendations below are similar to the guidelines for general good health and well-being.

Plant-based foods are a healthy choice for cancer survivors:

  • Aim for at least 2 ½ cups of non-starchy vegetables and fruits in your diet each day
  • Fill 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and/or seeds
  • Add more vegetables than fruits
  • Choose 100% whole grains, rather than processed (refined) white flour or white rice

Limit red meat intake:

  • Choose lean cuts of chicken, turkey, fish, pork and beef
  • Eat no more than 18 ounces of red meat each week
  • Avoid processed meats: sandwich meats, ham, bacon, hot dogs and sausages

Limit daily salt intake:

  • Get no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which equals about 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Eat salty foods in moderation, including processed foods, soups, pizza, breads and breakfast cereals

Avoid sugary drinks and processed foods:

  • Choose water instead of soda, energy drinks and sports drinks
  • Eat sugary foods in moderation
  • Eat fewer high-calorie, low-nutrient foods

Limit alcohol intake:

  • Women should have no more than one drink a day
  • Men should have no more than two drinks a day

Adopt a Physically Active Lifestyle

Always ask your doctor before starting an exercise program. Some of cancer’s late effects and treatment may limit exercise.

Sit less and move more. Take one to two minutes breaks from sitting every hour while awake.

Strive for moderate or vigorous physical activity most days of the week. During moderate activity, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster. During vigorous activity, you should be breathing more rapidly and only able to speak a few words at a time. Based on your ability and goals, try to get:

  • 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate activity each week
  • 75 minutes (1 hour, 15 minutes) of vigorous physical activity
  • A combination of both vigorous and moderate activity

Include muscle strengthening at least two days per week. Strength training provides resistance against a force. Examples of strength training include using:

  • Free weights to perform a bicep curl
  • Weight machines to perform a leg press
  • Resistance bands to perform a shoulder press
  • Your own body as a weight to perform walking lunges
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Road to Wellness

Road to Wellness


MD Anderson is offering Road to Wellness, a 6-8 week program of videos that promotes health, well-being and independence for cancer survivors. 


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center