Diet and exercise after acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

You might start to think about exercise and diet after your treatment. 

Exactly what you can do varies. It depends on the treatment you had, and how fit you were before your leukaemia.

Diet and AML

Diet plays an important part in coping with cancer and its treatment. A good, well balanced diet might help you feel stronger, have more energy, and recover more quickly.

After treatment, most people can eat whatever they want. While you were having treatment, your weight may have changed. You might have lost weight. This may be because of the side effects of your treatment including:

  • loss of appetite
  • taste changes
  • sickness
  • a sore mouth
  • diarrhoea

If you still find it difficult to eat, you can try high calorie and high protein drinks. You may have had these drinks during treatment. Once your treatment has finished though, you should begin to feel better and be able to eat a normal diet. This can take a while after intensive treatment.

Healthier options

When they are diagnosed with cancer, many people look at their diet and make changes, deciding to choose healthier options. For example:

  • eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • eating less fat and salt
  • cutting out alcohol or drinking alcohol within the guidelines 

All of these things help you to recover and aim to keep you healthy.

Diet after a stem cell transplant

After a stem cell or bone marrow transplant you will have an increased risk of getting an infection. 

For the first few months, to help lower the risk of infection you should:

  • eat only freshly cooked food
  • avoid undercooked eggs
  • avoid soft cheese and blue cheese
  • avoid creamy cakes and puddings
  • wash salads and fruit very thoroughly
  • avoid takeaways and fast food restaurants

Don't drink more than the recommended level of alcohol. Too much alcohol can slow the recovery of your bone marrow. Ask your doctor if alcohol will interfere with any medicines you are taking.

In general, government guidelines recommend that:

  • you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • if you drink this amount, to spread this evenly over at least 3 days
  • to have some alcohol free days in the week to help cut down on the amount you drink

Exercise and AML

Exercise is a great way to help you feel better, both physically and emotionally. But it is important not to overdo it. How much you can do depends on how fit you are and how you feel. You will probably have days when you don’t have so much energy. Listen to your body and build up slowly.

Gentle walking is suitable for most people to start with. Once your white blood count is back to normal and you don’t have a central line any more you can go swimming.

A recent review looked at studies that had focused on exercise in those with blood cancers such as AML. The authors found that regular exercise might help to reduce tiredness (fatigue) and depression after treatment.

Talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure about how much you can do.

  • Aerobic physical exercise for adult patients with haematological malignancies
    L Knips and others
    Cochrane Database Systematic Review, 2019 Jan 31;1:CD00907

  • CanWalk: a feasibility study with embedded randomised controlled trial pilot of a walking intervention for people with recurrent or metastatic cancer
    V Tsianakas and others
    British Medical Journal, 2017. Volume 7, issue 2, e013719

  • A systematic review on the use of exercise interventions for individuals with myeloid leukemia.
    J Smith-Turchyn and J Richardson
    Supportive Care in Cancer, 2015. Volume 23, issue 8, pages 2435 to 2446

  • A phase II exercise randomized controlled trial for patients with acute myeloid leukemia undergoing induction chemotherapy

    S Alibhai and others 

    Leukaemia research, 2015. S0145-2126 (15) 30365-9

  • UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines
    Department of Health, August 2016

Last reviewed: 
18 May 2020
Next review due: 
18 May 2023

Related links