Good Nutrition and Regular Exercise
. . . Incorporating healthy diet and activity to help manage side effects from cancer and where to find information about them in this website
Under no circumstances should you begin any diet or exercise routines without first consulting your physician. Getting the right kind of nutrition and exercise during cancer treatment may help you fight fatigue, anemia (low red blood-cell counts) and other side effects of therapy.
Keep in mind that your nutritional needs might change during treatment. And while the last thing you may want to do is exercise after receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy, exercise can be effective in reducing not only fatigue but also anxiety and depression. You should ask your physician if you should speak to a dietician or a physical therapist about diet and exercise routines that may be beneficial for you.
Getting proper nutrition during cancer treatments can help you fight infections, give you needed energy to withstand cancer therapies, help your body heal and give you a better chance at recovering from your cancer.
However, one of the most common side effects of cancer therapy is a loss of appetite. Combined with other side effects — such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or a sore mouth — appetite loss can prevent you from getting the nutrients your body needs and cause you to be tired, weak and unable to resist infections, fight your cancer and withstand therapy.
Your doctor, nurse or other qualified health professional can give you advice on nutrition, answer your questions, and refer you to a registered dietitian for recommendations on a healthy diet for cancer patients. You may be urged to consume more foods and liquids high in calories and protein. Be sure to ask about the amount of fat and protein you may need and what foods you should eat to get the recommended amounts of fat, calories and protein.
Fatty foods are high in calories and are important because they provide energy and transport vitamins through the bloodstream. They also make food taste better. Fats are found in milk, cream, butter, meats, poultry and fish. Fats are also found in vegetable oils, such as olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil.
Protein helps the body grow, repair damaged tissue and boost your immune system to fight off infections. Without enough protein, it may take you longer to recover from treatment. After chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy, you need extra protein to heal and prevent infections. Fish, poultry, lean meat, dairy products, dried beans, nuts, peas, lentils and soy are great sources of protein.
How to Add Calories and Protein to Diet
Please consult with a health professional before adding calories or protein to your diet. See chart below for guidance.
Butter and margarine: Melt over potatoes, rice, pasta and cooked vegetables. Stir melted butter or margarine into soups and casseroles and spread on bread before adding other ingredients to your sandwich.
Milk products: Add whipping cream to desserts, pancakes, waffles, fruit and hot chocolate, and fold it into soups and casseroles. Add sour cream to baked potatoes and vegetables.
Salad dressings: Use regular (not low-fat or diet) mayonnaise and salad dressing on sandwiches and dips with vegetables and fruit.
Sweets: Add jelly and honey to bread and crackers. Add jam to fruit, and use ice cream as a topping on cake.
Milk products: Eat cheese on toast or with crackers. Add grated cheddar cheese to baked potatoes, vegetables soups, noodles, meat and fruit. Use milk in place of water for cereal and soups. Include cream sauces on vegetables and pasta. Add powdered milk to cream soups, mashed potatoes, puddings and casseroles. Add yogurt or cottage cheese to favorite fruits or blended smoothies.
Eggs: Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator. Chop and add to salads, casseroles, soups and vegetables. Make a quick egg salad. All eggs should be well cooked to avoid the risk of harmful bacteria.
Meats, poultry and fish: Add leftover cooked meats to soups, casseroles, salads and omelets. Mix diced and flaked meat with sour cream and spices to make dip.
Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds: Sprinkle seeds on desserts, such as fruit, ice cream, pudding and custard. Also serve on vegetables, salads and pasta. Spread peanut butter on toast and fruit or blend in a milkshake.
Source: Preparing Yourself for Cancer Treatment by the American Cancer Society. Available online at www.cancer.org.
Vitamins and Minerals
Your body also needs vitamins and minerals to help you recover from cancer treatments and stay healthy. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the best sources of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Fruits and vegetables also supply the body with antioxidants — substances that help protect cells in your body from damage. Vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A and selenium are common types of antioxidants.
While you are receiving cancer treatments, it may be difficult for you to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, and your doctor or dietitian might suggest you take a multivitamin and mineral supplements every day. Discuss with your doctor any vitamin or mineral supplements you are currently taking because large doses of some supplements can reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Many people take large doses of vitamin C to boost their immune system and prevent illness. However, a recent study conducted at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center in New York found that increasing the level of Vitamin C may actually reduce the effect of chemotherapy.
Here are some hints to keep in mind to help you get the nutrition you need while you are undergoing cancer treatments. Be sure to review this list with your health-care professional before following any of these suggestions.
Try eating small meals and snacks all day instead of three large meals.
When you are hungry, eat more than usual.
Eat meals and snacks with sufficient protein and calories to help you keep up your strength.
You may find that your appetite is better in the morning, so eat more then. You may want to eat your main meal early in the day rather than at night.
Keep ready-to-eat snacks handy to nibble on during the day, such as cheese, crackers, ice cream, muffins, yogurt, granola bars and nuts.
If you are not interested in eating and can eat only one or two things, consume a liquid or powdered commercial meal replacement product, such as instant breakfast, for extra calories and protein.
On days when you don’t feel like eating, drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Other healthy liquids include fruit juices, sports drinks, broth and milk.
Because cancer treatments can weaken your body’s immune system, your body may not be able to protect you against infections at times, and so you may be told to avoid some foods that can expose you to bacteria, such as raw and undercooked meat, fish, poultry, eggs and tofu.
Once your treatment is complete, most of your eating-related side effects should disappear. Rather than staying on a high-calorie, high-protein diet, you should return to a conventional healthy diet when you start feeling better.
Your physician or other health care professional may recommend a regular program of moderate exercise during cancer treatment. If recommended, physical activity may help you function better in your daily activities, such as climbing stairs, walking or doing housework, and feel less fatigue after chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Exercise can also improve your sense of self-esteem, lower your risk of anxiety and depression, help you control your weight and improve your quality of lif
In the past, doctors often told cancer patients to rest and reduce their physical activities while they were being treated for cancer. That advice may still apply if movement causes you severe pain, shortness of breath or a rapid heartbeat. However, more recent research has shown that exercising during treatment is usually safe and may improve physical wellbeing and quality of life. Regular exercise can help you overcome the side effects of your illness and avoid the loss of strength, physical function and range of motion often caused by too much rest.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about an exercise program that is safe and effective for you. The type of cancer you have, the treatments you are receiving and your own fitness level affect your ability to exercise and the type of exercise program that is right for you.
In addition to your doctor’s advice, you may need the advice of a physical therapist or exercise specialist to develop an exercise program. Once you have an exercise plan, you will likely need to start slowly with short periods of exercise and frequent breaks to rest. If recommended, you can slowly increase the amount of time and how hard you exercise.
Be sure to ask about whether or not you should include resistance exercises, such as exercising with light weights, along with aerobic exercises, like walking, in your routine. Also ask about exercises that increase your flexibility and maintain your range of motion in your arms, legs and joints, such as moving your arms upward and through their entire range of motion. It’s wise to start with warm-up exercises for two or three minutes, such as stretching or shoulder shrugs.
Some practical advice on exercising safely from the American Cancer Society:
Do not exercise if you have anemia. Your cancer care team will be checking your blood counts during your treatment, so ask them about the best time to exercise.
If you have low white blood-cell counts or if you take medicines that may reduce your ability to fight infection, avoid public gyms and other public places until you are back at safe levels. Check with your cancer care team about these.
Do not exercise if the level of minerals in your blood, such as sodium and potassium, are not normal. This can happen if you have had a lot of vomiting or diarrhea. Ask your doctor about your blood tests. If it is OK with your doctor, drink plenty of fluids.
If you are very tired and don’t feel up to exercising, you can try to do 10 minutes of stretching exercises every day.
Avoid uneven surfaces or any weight-bearing exercises that could cause a fall and injury.
Do not use heavy weights or do exercises that put too much stress on the bones if you have osteoporosis, cancer that has spread to the bone, arthritis, nerve damage, poor vision, poor balance or weakness. You may be more likely to injure yourself or break bones.
If you have numbness in your feet or problems with balance, you are at higher risk for falls. You might do better with a stationary reclining bicycle, for example, than a treadmill.
Watch for swelling in your ankles, unexplained weight gain or shortness of breath while at rest or with a small amount of exertion. Let your doctor know if you have any of these problems.
Watch for bleeding if you are taking blood thinners. Avoid any activity that raises your risk for falls or injury. If you notice swelling, pain, dizziness or blurred vision, call your doctor right away.
To avoid irritation, don’t expose skin that has had radiation therapy to the chlorine in swimming pools.
Do not exercise if you have unrelieved pain, nausea/vomiting or any other symptom that causes you concern. Call your doctor.
Do not exercise above a moderate level of exertion without talking with your doctor. Remember, moderate exertion is about as much effort as a brisk walk.
If you still have a catheter (a tube that goes into your body), avoid water and other exposures that may cause infections. Also, avoid resistance training that uses muscles in the area of the catheter to avoid dislodging it. Talk with your cancer team about what is safe for you.