10 Holistic Habits for Cancer Recovery

Multiple research studies have investigated the connection between lifestyle issues and cancer, analyzing diet, exercise, support, and stress management. While no evidence-based proof exists yet, many experts believe healthier living and holistic approaches have the potential to improve general health, energy levels, and overall well-being in cancer patients.



One of the common side effects of cancer treatment is a change in a person’s eating habits and nutritional needs. Although it is important for people with cancer to maintain a healthy body weight and eat nutritious foods, the side effects of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy can greatly impact nutrition. Making a few adjustments to diet can help in recovery. Recommendations include:

Lowering dietary fat to 10% to 20% of calories
Eating more plant-based protein, whole grains, and less animal-based protein
Increasing intake of cancer fighting superfoods
Avoiding soda (diet or regular)
Limiting caffeine to no more than 1 to 2 cups a day
Drinking alcohol in moderation



It is estimated more than 75% of people are chronically dehydrated, which can lead to an array of health problems and impair recovery from breast cancer. Increase hydration with a goal of 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Avoid or limit drinking dehydrating beverages including anything caffeinated and alcohol. In addition to water, herbal teas, nonfat soymilk, and diluted fruit juices are good options.



Clean Living:

Limit nitrates and cured foods and decrease food additives such as artificial flavor, color, and sweeteners. Eat minimally processed and fresh whole foods as much as possible and avoid fast food. If you smoke, quit smoking. Consider using filtered water to avoid potentially cancer-causing contaminants in tap water.



Research has shown yoga may be helpful when used with conventional medical treatment to help relieve some symptoms linked to cancers and decreasing levels of stress. A study on 200 breast cancer survivors who had finished treatment within the last 3 years revealed the benefits of yoga. In women who completed 12 weeks of yoga classes twice a week, fatigue decreased by 57% and inflammation in the body was reduced by as much as 20%.



Aerobic exercise at moderate to high level intensity for at least 20 minutes, three times a week and light weightlifting are helpful in recovery. Ongoing research shows exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and help decrease lymphedema. Women enrolled in the Physical Activity and Lymphedema Trial (PAL) who followed the weightlifting plan were stronger, had a better body image, and less body fat than women who didn’t lift weights. Moreover, in those diagnosed with lymphedema, the risk of worsening lymphedema was reduced by 50%. Walking, jogging, running, bicycling, swimming, and aerobic exercise or dance classes deliver the following benefits:

Increases energy
Reduces risk of lymphedema
Promotes sleep
Improves cardiovascular fitness
Improves mood
Strengthens bones
Reduces hot flashes
Maintains ideal weight
Keeps the gastrointestinal (GI) tract regular




Meditation is about rediscovering the present moment and becoming more connected to one’s self. This space allows for awareness and perspective, both of which can help people accept and overcome everyday stress and formidable challenges like recovering from breast cancer. Potential meditation benefits for breast cancer include decreasing symptoms of chemo and radiation.


Guided Imagery:

This is a gentle but powerful type of meditation leveraging imagery in one’s mind to focus and direct the imagination in proactive, positive ways. A recovering cancer patient may imagine the concerted action of thousands of loyal immune cells on a search and destroy mission to wipe out recurring cancer cells. After reflecting about the challenges of a problem, one calls up a healing, positive image of that problem, resulting in a more positive state of mind.



Keeping a journal is a perfect way to write down and work through feelings and thoughts privately. Writing can help cancer patients heal by coming to terms with a roller coaster of emotions often suppressed during the treatment process.



Emotional Support:

Some people benefit from individual counseling, while others find support groups especially helpful. Other people in recovery find it therapeutic to go on a retreat or have "heart-to heart" talks with relatives and friends.



Reading, researching and talking about cancer recovery with other survivors can be empowering. This will dispel the notion you are the only person in the world with sad, hard, complicated or confused feelings, thoughts, or behaviors regarding cancer.

Check with your cancer team or primary care physician before making major dietary changes or starting exercise programs.


Have you tried any of these techniques? Did they work for you? Please comment below.


Additional Resources:

What is Chemo Brain?

Relaxation Tips for Cancer Patients

Living with Cancer: Tips for Managing Stress

How to Tie a Head Scarf

Wig Buying Guide

Cancer Hats: Buying Guide