Research has shown that you can greatly reduce your chance of developing cancer by the lifestyle choices you make.
Yes, hereditary factors can play a large part, too, and some families are affected by cancer more than others. But overall, a person’s choices will contribute to their health and wellbeing throughout their life.
More than 1.7 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and an estimated 600,000 Americans will die from cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
By following these seven recommendations, you too can live a life of your best possible health and greatly reduce your chance of developing cancer and other harmful diseases. The final recommendation can help you follow all of the recommendations.
- Eat a healthy diet. Your body needs various nutrients found in a variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits. Also, a plant-based diet low in sugar has been found to reduce inflammation, which is an underlying factor in so many diseases. By eating well, and drinking plenty of water in-between meals, you’ll be giving your body optimum fuel for activity, work, fun and rest. The absence of unhealthy foods makes it harder for cancer and other diseases to develop
- Exercise regularly. Getting your body moving develops strong muscle and bones, and regular activity keeps us in good health. There have been many recommendations over the years on the best type of exercise for the fastest health results. I prefer a balanced approach relating to your own preferences. If you like to jog, fine. If you prefer to swim, do it. If you like to go on walks with friends, that’s great too. Whatever movement activity you naturally enjoy doing, I say that’s the right prescription. You can even mix it up with a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise to give different muscles more use. Both are good for you in moderation. Regularly exercising will motivate you to eat better. You may also notice that you sleep better, too.
- Manage stress. Stress can cause undue inflammation throughout our body. Even if a person is eating well and exercising regularly, difficult life situations or ongoing mental stressors can have a tangible impact on our physical wellbeing. You may notice pains or soreness in an area of your body that weren’t there before. Unbalanced stress can lead to chemical damage of your body, which could put you at higher risk for cancer. It’s important to learn emotionally healthy responses to challenging situations, which we all face at some point in our lives.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity puts people at a higher risk for so many types of cancers, including colorectal, breast and uterine. There are now studies that show that people have a dramatically lower risk of getting cancer after having bariatric surgery, which offers various operations to reduce weight. However, losing weight on your own is the preferred option.
- Stop smoking. This is by far the most important modifiable risk factor for cancer. Some research has found that 50 percent of cancers deaths are caused by smoking. Today, many people recognize that smoking can cause lung cancer, which is the most deadly type of cancer in the U.S. by far. Tobacco also contributes to so many other types of cancers, such as pancreas, bladder, head and neck, and many others. When combined with other risk factors, tobacco use can greatly add to the danger of developing cancer of all kinds.
- Limit sun exposure. Be mindeful of the sun and use sunscreen. This will limit your risk for all types of skin cancers, such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. This also applies to indoor tanning salons.
- Maintain your environment. A book came out this year saying willpower doesn’t work. While there is debate on this, the book’s premise is absolutely true — setting up your environment for success will help you make better lifestyle choices than in an environment that doesn’t empower you. For example, if you wish to maintain a healthy weight, talk with your family about why this is important to you. Together, you can all decide to have only healthy foods in your home and to eat good, fulfilling meals together instead of constantly snacking. Also, if you and your work buddies bond by going out for a smoking break, maybe it’s time to do other communal break activities together or find other co-workers to hang out with. The point is, preparing your environment to help you has far better results than trying to make better choices with an environment that doesn’t serve you well.
If needed, talk with your doctor about maintaining helpful lifestyle choices. You can speak with your primary care provider or seek help from a specialist in lifestyle medicine or behavioral medicine. We at Loma Linda University Health want you living your best possible life. Living in optimum health is one of the biggest factors.
—Mark Reeves, MD, PhD, is director of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center.