How to reduce your cancer risk with simple lifestyle choices
The aim of World Cancer Day is simple: to save millions of preventable deaths annually by raising awareness and education about the disease.
We know our risk of developing the disease can depend on our genes - and that’s something we can’t control. What we can control, though, are two other factors: negative environmental factors and lifestyle choices that science has proven to increase the risk.
Damage to our DNA can build up over time, causing cells to multiply out of control - and that’s how cancer starts. But experts estimate that more than 4 in 10 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes. Here are some inspiring ideas for switching your own habits…
Eat the rainbow
Hippocrates was right when he said ‘let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. Nutrition is so emphatically powerful when it comes to lowering your risk of cancer. Eat more fruit and vegetables rich in carotenoids (carrots, Brussels sprouts, squash) and high in vitamin C (oranges, berries, dark leafy greens, bell peppers) for those cancer-fighting antioxidants. A colourful variety is the key for best protection.
Go for quality meat
The World Health Organisation’s 2015 announcement that processed meat (sausage, bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami etc) causes cancer was not necessarily a new one. Limiting red meat intake has long been recommended by health professionals. Try replacing it with fish, poultry or vegetarian sources of protein for some dishes and select organic (preferably pasture-raised) meat. Grass-fed livestock do not have the antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs seen in industrially-raised meat (which can increase cancer risk).
Do 30-minutes of exercise daily
It’s not just good for your heart: being physically active can also reduce the risk of developing breast, bowel or womb cancer. Exercise can reduce estrogen levels (associated with breast cancer) and cell-multiplying insulin, as well as stimulating digestion (reducing inflammation and damage in the bowel). Hit the gym, take up a new class or go for a swim: there’s no greater motivation than your health.
Stand more, sit less
While exercising and eating well are things we know we should be doing, many of us aren’t aware of the dangers sitting down too often can pose. Research has shown that women who spend six hours or more sitting per day have a 10% greater risk of getting cancer than those who sit for three hours. This is difficult to avoid if you work in an office, but breaking up long periods at your desk with short bouts of activity for just one to two minutes can reduce sluggish metabolism caused by sedentary activity.
Cut back on alcohol
It’s really simple. The less you drink, the lower your risk of cancer. Alcohol is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde, which damages our DNA. You may have read that drinking small amounts of red wine is good for you but the benefits only outweigh the risks in those susceptible to heart disease. Opt for smaller servings when you do drink - and aim to make most days of the week alcohol-free.
Stop smoking for good
Smoking is the most important preventable cause of cancer in the world - responsible for more than 100 million deaths worldwide in the 20th century. The research is clear - giving up can gain valuable years of your life. There are more ways than ever to quit smoking, including support groups, forums, apps and the increasing prevalence of safer alternatives, such as e-cigarettes.
We all know that stress isn’t good for us. But the power of stress hormones can do far more damage than we’d like to imagine. When we’re stressed out or anxious, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol - which increases free radicals and shuts down our natural self-repair mechanisms that can kill stray cancer cells, fight infections and even slow the aging process. Exercise (especially yoga) can greatly reduce stress, as can all of the tips listed above.