Sometimes it can feel like every other person you know is getting cancer—and everyone else is worrying about when they might receive the same dreaded diagnosis.
While it’s true that more than 10 million Americans are battling some form of the disease, cancer is more preventable than you might think. In fact, 90 percent to 95 percent of cancers develop as a result of factors you have control over. Much of it boils down to your diet and exercise habits.
You have the ability to turbocharge your immune system, keep your hormonal mix at healthy levels and defend your body’s cells from DNA damage so that cancer has far less of a chance. And as an added bonus, following anti-C strategies will also help you maintain an optimal weight and cut your risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Call it “healthy multitasking.” We know more about preventing cancer than ever before.
Implement these surprising tips into your daily life and you will be well on your way to stopping this frightening disease before it strikes you.
Strive for your high school weight. Staying lean throughout your life is one of the most important things you can do to stay cancer free. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) in the range of 21 to 23.
“Any weight gain after age 18 (excluding pregnancy) is mostly fat,” says Walter Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. And excess body fat produces unhealthy hormone levels and releases inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream that can influence cell growth, upping the risk of cancer of the esophagus, colon, rectum, endometrium, gallbladder, liver, pancreas and kidneys.
Weight gain after menopause is particularly dangerous: Your risk of breast cancer increases by about 10 percent with every 11 pounds you tack on to your frame.
If your BMI is more than 23, work on losing 5 percent of your body weight in the next six months, Dr. Willet advises. If you weigh 160 pounds, that’s just 8 pounds. Once you achieve that goal, then go for another five percent. Come as close as you can to your ideal BMI.
Seem too ambitious? Then at least hold steady. “Even just losing that initial five percent loss and keeping it off will reduce your cancer risk,” Dr. Willett says.
If you’re at a healthy BMI now, keep close tabs on your weight. If it starts to creep up (a five-pound jump is Dr. Willett’s red flag), stop gaining more and take steps to lose. Concentrate on eating foods that are low in energy density, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, as well as fruits and vegetables. These foods are bulky but low in fat, so you’ll fill up on fewer calories and won’t feel deprived.
Also, monitor the calories you drink. Research cites sugary, calorie-laden beverages such as non-diet sodas and juice-flavored drinks as a major contributor to weight gain. That’s because they’re not satiating. Your brain constantly tracks the number of calories you consume so that you usually know when to put down your fork. But about 30 percent of liquid calories you consume can slide under your brain’s monitoring radar.
Get Up And Move, Shake It, Or At Least Take A Walk
Regular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it also most likely reduces the risk of colon, endometrium, lung, pancreas and breast cancer. That’s because keeping active strengthens the immune system, helps lower body fat and regulates hormone levels.
“With each step you take throughout the day, you’re changing your body chemistry to prevent rather than promote cancer,” says Karen Collins, R.D., the AICR’s nutrition advisor.
Make 60 minutes of moderate daily activity your goal (which can be broken up into 10-minute increments throughout the day). This is especially important starting at around age 40 to compensate for the natural, age-related wane in hormones such as estrogen that help maintain bone and calorie-burning muscle. “Basically, if you don’t increase your physical activity level as you get older, you’ll inevitably gain weight,” Dr. Willett says.
Find a fitness walk to train for, such as a local 5K or half-marathon. Then commit to an hour a day of brisk walking to get in shape for the event. Sound like a lot? “If you’re committed to your goal, you’ll find a way to fit in an hour’s worth of exercise, no matter how busy you are,” says Laurie Bagley, an online fitness coach in Weed, California. The key to making it happen is to reserve time for exercise appointments in your day planner, just as you would for business meetings.
Also, think about where your schedule provides pockets of exercise opportunity. “Many people watch TV from 7 P.M. to 11 P.M. each night. That’s lost time for activity,” says Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Why not use a portion of this time for a bike ride, a walk with your family or an exercise DVD, before rewarding yourself with your favorite show.
Pile On The Greens
You don’t have to be a vegetarian, but eating a plant-based diet provides a health insurance policy against a range of cancers, including those of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, and pancreas. Always fill two-thirds of your plate with veggies and whole grains, and devote just one-third to red meat, chicken or fish.
Start by eating more dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy and romaine lettuce. Studies show that about half of all Americans eat no leafy greens, which leaves a huge whole in our diets, Dr. Willet says. We’re missing out on cancer-fighting vitamins A, C, E and B6, folate and phytochemicals, which strengthen the immune system and protect cells and DNA from the oxidative damage that can lead to cancer.
Sandra Gordon is the author of eight books and has written about health and nutrition for nearly 20 years for custom publications, Websites and major magazines such as Parents, Family Circle, Fitness, Redbook, Self, Vitality, Cooking Light, More, ShopSmart, American Baby, Shape, Ladies' Home Journal, Cooking Light, Woman's Day, Parenting, Krames Staywell, and Harvard Medical School, among others.