GETTING HEALTHY AFTER CANCER
How to make changes to a healthier life style
It is estimated that in Australia there are currently over 900,000 people living with and beyond cancer. Once treatment has finished many struggle with a range of side-effects, such as fatigue as well as experiencing fear about the cancer returning. Most want to do all that they can to improve their health over the longer-term. Engaging in regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight can help. Remember
to check with your General Practitioner before commencing any health and fitness program.
Like a lot of Australians, cancer survivors can find it difficult to make lifestyle changes. They may have experienced long periods of time where they found it hard to do any physical activity at all and eating healthy foods may have been a challenge. They may also have gained weight due to the treatments they had to undergo. This can result in uncertainty as to how to go about making healthy lifestyle changes.
HOW TO START YOUR LIFE STYLE CHANGES:
The first thing to do is to think about your main reasons for making healthy lifestyle changes.
• maybe you want to have more energy to play with your kids or grandkids
• perhaps you want to feel more in control of your health,
• and to feel less anxious about your cancer coming back.
You might want to write down your reasons and save them. If, down the track, you find yourself losing motivation (which is absolutely normal – none of us are perfect!), look back at your reasons and remind yourself of why you decided to make these healthy lifestyle changes in the first place. You might find that this gives you the push you need to get back on track.
Another helpful tip is to set yourself small, achievable goals that you can work towards. Try to make sure that these goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable and realistic) for you and involve details about time. For example, if you would like to be more physically active you could set yourself the following goal: ‘I will walk for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon after work, starting from Monday next week and continuing throughout the whole month’. It’s good to keep track of your progress and at the end of the month reward yourself, perhaps with a new pair of walking shoes, a trip to the movies, or a copy of your favourite magazine. Once you’ve met your goal, set a new one – you’ll be surprised what you can achieve!
WHAT TO AIM FOR:
Recommendations for cancer survivors are no different to those for the general Australian public:
• Be as physically active as possible, aiming for at least 30 minutes of activity on 5 or more days per week
THINK & WRITE DOWN YOUR REASONS, SET & CARRY OUT SMART GOALS, THEN REWARD YOURSELF
• Eat a healthy, low saturated fat diet, aiming for 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit each day
• Maintain a healthy body weight
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you feel like you would benefit from some extra support to make healthy lifestyle changes you can sign-up for Healthy Living after Cancer. It’s a free health coaching program for cancer survivors run by Cancer Council and available to residents of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It’s open to those diagnosed with any type of cancer who have completed treatment and allows you to receive up to 12 health coaching calls over a period of 6 months from a Cancer Council nurse or health consultant. If you are interested in finding out more about the program or would like to sign-up to take part, please phone Cancer Council on
13 11 20 and ask about the Healthy Living after Cancer program.
Professor Elizabeth Eakin is a behavioural scientist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Her work focuses on interventions to promote healthy lifestyles among cancer survivors. You can find out more about her work here.