With over one million Australians now either living with cancer or having survived a diagnosis1, getting back to a healthy lifestyle after cancer is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
One of the programs that we run at Cancer Council NSW is called Healthy Living After Cancer. It’s a personalised diet and exercise program which helps cancer patients and survivors get active, eat better and feel better, so that they can do more things that are important to them.
Spring is a great time to reignite your motivation and make some healthy lifestyle choices. Here are my five top tips for healthy living after cancer.
One of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to engage in regular physical activity. Regular exercise helps to reduce fatigue, control hormone levels and maintain a healthy body weight which can lower the risk of cancer recurring.
With the weather starting to warm up and the days getting longer, there’s no better time to restart or start your exercise regime.
For cancer prevention it’s recommended to do at least 60 minutes of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day.
Be sure to spend time warming up before you start your exercise and stretch afterwards. Also remember to drink plenty of water! Drinking water can help keep you alert and active during the day so staying well hydrated is crucial to making sure our bodies perform at their best.
Keeping a record of the physical activity you do and when you do it will keep you focused on your goals and also on what you have accomplished each day.
2. Boost your fruit and veg intake
Are you eating enough serves of vegetables and fruit each day? Spring is a great time to assess your eating habits. Take advantage of all the wonderful seasonal fruit and veg available. It’s recommended that you aim for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day.
Unsure about what a recommend serving size is? A serve of vegetables equates to half a cup of cooked vegetables or legumes, a cup of salad or half a medium potato. Fruit can be a little different, with one medium sized piece of fruit e.g. apple, pear, orange, banana, two pieces of small fruit e.g. apricots, plums, kiwifruit or one cup of fruit salad accounting for one serve.
Here are some simple ways you can squeeze more fruit and veg into your daily diet:
Shop for fresh fruit and vegetables weekly to ensure you have a fresh supply.
Add fresh or canned fruit as a topping on breakfast cereal.
Include at least three different coloured vegetables with your main meal.
To add variety, cook vegetables in different ways e.g. oven roasted, grilled or barbequed.
Adapt your recipes to include more vegetables e.g. add carrot, celery and peas to a bolognese sauce.
3. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep will give you more energy and is important for memory and concentration. Lack of sleep can have an effect on your immune system and make you more vulnerable to catching viruses.
Why not try relaxation or meditation exercises to see if they can improve your sleep or give you more energy? For a free copy of Cancer Council’s Relaxation and Meditation CDs, call 13 11 20. Done regularly, these simple, gentle exercises may help you release muscle tension, re-energise and sleep better.
4. Find a buddy!
Why not try it with a buddy? Getting fit and healthy with a friend is beneficial in many ways.
A buddy can keep you accountable for what you’re eating, check that you’re sticking to exercise plans and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
You can support each other to achieve goals and it’s always easier when you know someone is there waiting for you at the gym or at your front gate to join you on your walk.
5. Set SMART goals
To help keep you on track, set some wellness or health goals. Make sure your goals are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
For example, ‘I will do a 30 minute walk three mornings a week on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, starting this Monday for the next month’. At the end of the month reward yourself with something worthwhile such as a massage or a movie date with a friend. It’s important to plan a reward to keep you motivated throughout the goal. When you have achieved your first SMART goal set a new one for the next month along with a new reward.
Long term goals can also help to keep you motivated. For example, set a goal that by summer you will be able to touch your toes or walk for longer. Think of a performance goal that really motivates you, and a goal that you can enjoy the process as you strive for it.
Even if you don’t quite meet your goal because something has gotten in the way, the important thing is to keep active. Even 10 minutes of exercise can set you up for feeling great and help you to make healthy choices all day long. Keep positive!