Cancer is the second leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, following heart disease. Research indicates that the risk of cancer can be greatly influenced by lifestyle factors related to body weight, exercise, diet, and alcohol consumption.
In June 2020, The American Cancer Society released new guidelines for these four key areas to help people reduce the risk of cancer. The new guidelines are based on the latest research on the relationships between cancer, diet, and physical activity.
It's never too late to start making healthier lifestyle choices. Continue reading to learn how you can make changes in these four key areas to reduce your risk of cancer.
The ACS guidelines recommend achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life, especially for older adults. Research shows that weight gain later in life, as well as excess body fat, increases the risk of cancer, especially for postmenopausal women.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is challenging for many people. An estimated two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Most weight-loss programs focus on the calories in/calories out approach, which maintains that the key to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume. However, this approach doesn't address the many factors that can influence how our bodies actually use and store the calories we consume. Factors such as hormonal imbalances, systemic inflammation, stress, and even genetic variants can all affect your ability to lose weight.
Regular exercise is important — not just to help manage weight, but also to reduce the risk of disease. Exercise is associated with numerous benefits, including improved mental health, better sleep, reduced stress, improved sexual health, and a longer life span.
To reduce cancer risk, adults should engage in 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week or 1.5 to 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity. Five hours of physical activity or more is considered best.
It's also important to limit the amount of time you spend sitting or engaged in other sedentary behavior. Research shows that sitting too often and sitting for long periods of time increases the risk of death from heart disease and cancer — even if you exercise when you aren't sitting down.
For people with a desk job, reducing time spent sitting can be challenging. Make a point of getting up and walking around periodically, or consider getting a standing desk or even a treadmill desk.
To reduce the risk of cancer, the ACS recommends eating a balanced, healthy diet by limiting your intake of red meat; processed meats, such as hot dogs and cold cuts; sugary beverages, such as sodas and sports drinks; highly processed foods; and refined grains.
Focus your diet on foods that are high in nutrients and support maintaining a healthy body weight. These include a variety of vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, and whole fruits. Make a point of eating fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors; these foods receive many of their nutrients from compounds called phytonutrients, which give plant foods their bright colors. For example, red foods such as strawberries and tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which can help protect against cancer.
The ScriptSave WellRx Grocery Guidance app can help you find healthier alternatives to the foods you buy most often. Simply scan the barcode on your food package to reveal its WellRx Health Index and discover "better for you" alternatives. Download it on the App Store or Google Play.
Click here for more detailed dietary recommendations for reducing cancer risk.
The final recommendation for reducing the risk of cancer is to limit alcohol consumption. It's best to refrain from drinking alcohol at all. If you do choose to drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
The proper course for reducing alcohol intake may vary depending on the person. If you tend to drink socially with friends, try having one drink and then switching to nonalcoholic beverages. If you drink in the evening to help you relax, you may need to replace drinking with other activities. This is a good opportunity to explore different methods of self-care, including exercise. For instance, practicing yoga in the evenings can help you relax and reduce stress.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.