Diet and Exercise with Hodgkins Lymphoma: Does Lifestyle Make a Difference?


If you’re living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it’s important to remember that how well you take care of your body during treatment may affect how you feel from day to day.

Maintaining a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine, as much as you are able, may potentially improve your sense of overall well-being.

How diet can affect you during treatment

During treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, your immune system is more vulnerable, which puts you at risk for infections. It’s also common for treatment to cause side effects such as exhaustion and weight loss.

Eating healthy meals helps to keep your body strong, maintain your energy levels and weight, and support your immune system.

If you’re currently in chemotherapy, you may experience gastrointestinal side effects like nausea and diarrhea, which can make it harder for you to stay well- nourished.

During this vital stage of your recovery, it’s especially important that you keep up a diet that provides you with all the nutrients your body needs.

The nutritional needs of people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma vary depending on factors like age, medical history, diagnosis, and stage of treatment. So it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to design a wellness plan that’s right for you.

Your doctor may give advice about your dietary needs, or they may refer you to a dietitian.

Eating a healthy diet

While there is no specific diet for people living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you can always aim to plan meals that are well-balanced and nutritious. A healthy balanced diet should include:

  • complex carbohydrates, including whole grains such as oats or whole wheat
  • lean proteins
  • dairy products
  • plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil

Try to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your regular rotation, and aim for 5 to 10 servings per day. As a reference point, one serving of most fruits and vegetables is about half a cup.

It’s also a good idea to include one or more servings of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, or Brussels sprouts every day.

Whenever possible, choose fat-free or low-fat options when it comes to dairy products. In general, try to limit the amount of saturated fats and trans fats to less than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.

Likewise, sugar should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. Aim to limit your consumption of salt to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and sugar-free drinks like herbal tea or seltzer. Since caffeine can sometimes increase gastrointestinal side effects, decaffeinated beverages may be your best option.

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However, if you can’t go without an occasional jolt of caffeine, adding more fiber to your diet may help to prevent some of these symptoms.

Minimizing food safety risks

During certain Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments, your body may become more susceptible to food-borne illness and infection. Here are a few quick food safety tips to help reduce your risk:

  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, and make sure you wipe down any surfaces you use for cooking before you begin preparing a meal.
  • Wash all your produce before peeling.
  • Avoid eating raw meat, eggs, sprouts, and sushi.
  • Avoid thawing frozen items on the counter.
  • Use separate plates for raw meat before cooking.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juices.
  • When dining out, avoid salad bars and buffets.
  • After grocery shopping, refrigerate your perishable food as soon as possible.
  • Be diligent about inspecting your food for spoilage and adhering to expiration dates.

Continuing to eat during chemotherapy

Sometimes the side effects of your treatment may make eating difficult or undesirable. If you’re having trouble getting solid food down, liquid options like protein shakes, unsweetened juice, and low-sodium soup may be easier to swallow.

Opting for soft foods and foods that become tender when cooked is another way to minimize pain from swallowing. Blending up fruits and vegetables into a smoothie can be a surprisingly tasty alternative to eating them whole.

If you find that you’re struggling to finish your meals, it may be helpful to break your food intake up into smaller servings and eat snack-sized portions four to six times throughout the course of your day.

Try not to skip any meals even if you feel like it’s difficult to eat. And make an effort to stay hydrated even if you don’t feel thirsty. Fluids can help to ease symptoms like fatigue and constipation that contribute to loss of appetite.

Keeping fit

Research has shown that staying active during Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment can improve both your physical stamina and your outlook for recovery.

Aside from building muscle and bone strength, regular exercise has also been proven to reduce anxiety and fatigue, improve heart function, and increase self- esteem.

Before starting any new exercise program, consult with your doctor about your fitness needs. It’s a good idea to begin with a light workout routine, then gradually increase the intensity as you get a sense of your capabilities and limitations.

People who already exercise frequently may need to decrease their fitness level during the more physically demanding portions of Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment like chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy can also increase the risk of exercise-related illnesses. It’s best to avoid public gyms and pools during this stage of treatment to reduce your risk of exposure to infections.

Staying active during treatment

Although it’s a good idea to stay as active as you can during treatment, you don’t need to over-exert yourself if you’re feeling weak or tired.

The recovery process for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be physically demanding. There may be days when you simply don’t have the energy for your regular fitness routine.

Here are a few options to help you keep active if you’re feeling too fatigued for a full-on workout:

  • Go for a gentle walk around your neighborhood.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Tidy your living space.
  • Spend 30 minutes gardening.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and light yoga.

The takeaway

Regardless of what stage you’re at in your treatment, it’s not too late to start making healthy lifestyle choices. For more information on recommended nutrition and fitness guidelines, talk to your doctor during your next appointment.

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