Diet and physical activity after acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

You might start to think about how much physical activity you're doing and your diet after your AML 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.

Ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to a dietitian if you want more advice about your diet after cancer treatment.

Diet after a stem cell transplant

During your transplant Open a glossary item your treatment team may have advised you to make changes to your diet to reduce the chance of picking up an infection from your food. You might need to follow the same advice for the first few months after a transplant. The advice can vary slightly between hospitals.  

The general advice is to:

  • eat only freshly cooked food
  • avoid undercooked eggs
  • avoid soft cheese and blue cheese
  • avoid creamy cakes and puddings
  • avoid shellfish
  • wash salads and fruit very thoroughly
  • avoid takeaways and fast food restaurants (or make sure they make you freshly cooked food)

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

Physical activity 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, January 2019. Issue 1, Article number 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, November 2015. Volume 39, Issue 11, Pages 1178 to 1186

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

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
13 Nov 2023
Next review due: 
13 Nov 2026

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