Physical wellness

Physical wellness is about doing what you can to help strengthen and care for your body. Taking steps before, during, and after your treatment can help you manage the effects of the illness and side effects of treatment.

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Survivor story

Photo of smiling man with words PHYSICAL WELLNESS underneath.

Joseph Feaster’s code about staying healthy is simple: “I don’t worry about what I can’t control, but I’m going to take charge of what I can control.” Nowhere is that more evident than his focus on physical wellness. A prostate cancer diagnosis more than a decade ago was a wake-up call to become more active and to improve his diet. His walking routine and better eating habits have paid off. At 65, he’s a model for other cancer survivors on how to take simple steps toward wellness and how to play an active role in your own care.

Why it is important

Improving physical wellness can:

  • Make you feel stronger
  • Help you feel less tired
  • Help improve your mood
  • Help lower the risk that your cancer will return

What you can do

Move More: This does not mean undertaking an intense exercise program. In fact, starting slow is the best course of action.

Listen to your body. Physical comfort is important for wellness, so if you are feeling sick from treatment, or are in pain, talk to your doctor before taking part in physical activities.

According to experts, a program to become more physically active has three main parts:

  • It is “aerobic”, meaning it is activity that gets your heart rate pumping, but not so high that you can’t talk in short sentences while you are doing it. Aerobic activity includes things like walking, swimming or riding a bike. Your goal should be 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. If you can’t start with 30 minutes, break up the time into two 15-minute walks, or three walks that last 10 minutes. Just do what you can and build your endurance over time.
  • It involves strength training, or activity that helps you maintain, tone and build your muscles. This could include working with light weights, or using a weight machine or resistance bands. Your goal should be 2 days of strength training per week.
  • It includes stretching and improving balance, to keep you flexible and steady on your feet. This could include things like yoga or Tai Chi, a graceful style of Chinese exercise.

Stop Smoking: If you smoke, try to stop. Talk to your doctor about medications and counseling to help you quit smoking. Most health insurance covers the cost of quitting smoking for as many times as you need.

You can also call the free Massachusetts Smokers’ Helpline at (800) QUIT-NOW, or (800) 784-8669.

Eat Better: Improving your diet is one of the most important parts of improving physical wellness. Maintain a healthy weight by:

  • Eating whole foods, including whole grain products (limit processed foods)
  • Eating at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day
  • Choosing foods low in salt, saturated fat and sugar
  • Drinking water (limit alcohol and sugar sweetened drinks)

These are general guidelines. Talk to your doctor, or a nutritionist if you have special dietary requirements based on your unique situation.

Get Enough Sleep: According to the National Cancer Institute, upwards of 50% of cancer patients report some trouble sleeping. Getting rest is very important to cancer survivors who often feel tired because of the physical or emotional effects of the illness or treatment. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping. Getting enough sleep can improve the quality of your life before, during, and after your treatment.

Questions to ask yourself

  • What type of physical activity do I like to do?
  • Who can I find to be physically active with me?
  • What can I do to improve my diet?

Questions to ask your health insurance plan

  • Will my health insurance cover the cost of exercise and nutrition programs?

Questions to ask your doctor or care team

  • What type of physical activity or exercise program is safe for me?
  • What can I do if I am in pain, feeling sick from treatment, or have symptoms that make it difficult for me to be more active and eat better?
  • Can you refer me to a rehab program or physical therapist for help with an exercise program designed for cancer survivors?
  • Where can I get help developing a nutrition plan?
  • What types of food/supplements are best for cancer survivors?
  • What types of foods/supplements should I avoid?
  • Can you refer me to a program that helps with nutrition or cooking advice for cancer survivors?
  • Will you provide me with a survivorship care plan to help me stay well?

Expert voice

Additional resources