Diet, fluid and exercise

Increasing the amount of fibre you eat, drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising can help prevent or stop constipation.

Increasing fibre in your diet 

You can increase your fibre intake by eating:

  • porridge or high fibre breakfast cereal, such as bran, wheat biscuits or muesli
  • wholemeal or granary breads instead of white bread
  • plenty of fruit and vegetables – raw or cooked, with the skin or peel left on
  • whole grain rice or pasta instead of white rice or pasta
  • dried fruit, seeds and nuts
  • potatoes in their skins
  • beans, pulses and lentils
  • cakes or biscuits made with wholemeal flour

Drinking plenty of fluids

Remember to drink plenty of fluids if you are eating a lot of fibre. Fibre draws water into the bowel, so you could get dehydrated if you don't drink enough.

Drinking plenty of fluid such as water helps to soften your poo and makes it easier to pass. So drinking between 8 and 10 glasses of water each day can help prevent constipation. But avoid drinking alcohol or drinks that contain caffeine, like coffee and cola, as these can contribute to dehydration.

Always check with your doctor or nurse about how much you should be drinking, and which fluids are best.

If you find it hard to eat or drink enough

It can be difficult to eat a high fibre diet and drink enough if your cancer or its treatment is causing:

  • sickness
  • pain
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • nutritional problems
  • breathing problems
  • a high temperature (fever) and infections
  • mouth problems

Try to eat your meals at the same time each day or eat little and often. Both may help to make your bowel motions more regular.

Your hospital or community dietitian can help you to plan a diet specifically for you.

Gentle exercise

Regular exercise helps to keep your bowel working normally.

Side effects from your cancer and its treatment can make it difficult to exercise. You might feel that you don’t have the energy for it. But a little exercise is better than none.

A short walk each day may make all the difference to keeping your bowel motions soft and regular. Exercise has also been shown to increase energy levels, so you may gradually feel better and be able to do a little more.

Using a foot stool

Using a small foot stool to rest your feet on when you try to do a poo can sometimes help. It puts you into more of a squat position which assists gravity and the pressure applied by your feet can help the poo to pass more easily. 

If constipation continues

Ask for help from your healthcare team if your constipation is not getting any better.

Let your doctor or nurse know as soon as you begin to have problems. The earlier you tell them, the quicker they can help to sort it out.

  • Constipation - Clinical Knowledge Summary 
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), revised 2022

  • Diagnosis, assessment and management of constipation in advanced cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines

    P.J Larkin and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2018. Vol 29, Supplement 4.

  • Physical Activity and Cancer

    National Cancer Institute (NCI)

    Accessed December 2019

  • Managing Constipation in Adults With Cancer
    Rita J. Wickham, PhD, RN, AOCN
    Journal of  Advanced  Practioner in Oncology, 2017. Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 149–161.

Last reviewed: 
05 Dec 2022
Next review due: 
05 Dec 2025

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