How Can Lifestyle Changes Reduce Your Cancer Risk

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8 Simple Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Prevent Cancer

Most people know that one of the leading causes of cancer is tobacco products. Be it cigarettes, hookahs, or cigars, smoking accounts for one in every five deaths in the United States.

What many of us don’t know are the other leading causes of cancer. Diet and physical activity, radiation, genetics, and infections can all lead to cancer.

We may not have the cure for cancer yet, but here are 8 simple lifestyle changes that everyone can make to help reduce their risk of cancer.

1. Get Moving

We all know that we’re supposed to exercise. But a lot of us just don’t want to. The bad news for those of us who hate exercise is that it really is essential.

20% of cancers diagnosed are related to being overweight, lousy nutrition, excess alcohol, and inactivity. An excess in body fat causes our bodies to produce more estrogen and insulin, two hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.

Try incorporating 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. That’s only about twenty-two minutes of exercise a day.

Moderate activity is anything that gets you breathing a little harder. So take a long bike ride. Find a footpath with a view and walk it every day. Even cleaning your house can get your heart rate up.

If you like to work out or just want to get it over with, you could do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. This includes going for a run, swimming laps, or going hiking.

The key to exercising is finding an activity that you enjoy doing. If you’re having fun, you’ll keep doing it. So try new things. Do yoga, sign up for a dance class, or jump rope.

Think about what you like to do and make it work for you.

2. Taste the Rainbow

This common phrase may bring candy to mind, but it applies to fruits and vegetables, too. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of disease is to change your diet. We recommend two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables daily.

Vegetables may be a child’s archnemesis, but they work wonders on the body.

The good thing is, almost everyone has a favorite vegetable. Maybe you eat broccoli with every meal or always have a bag of carrots in your backpack. While this isn’t a bad thing, you might be missing out on a multitude of nutrients that could boost your health and delight your taste buds.

The key to eating vegetables is this: variety. That’s where the rainbow comes in.

You might’ve heard that the color of a fruit or vegetable corresponds to the vitamin you’ll get from eating it. This isn’t a myth.

When you taste the rainbow, you provide your body with the vitamins necessary to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

If the thought of eating more vegetables makes you want to give up before you’ve even started, you’re not alone. But a diet change isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Take it slow. Gradually add variety. Start by eating more of what you know you like. When you’ve gotten used to it, branch out. Try the vegetables that you always seem to pick off of your burger or out of your salad.

It might help to disguise your vegetables in dishes that you’re more comfortable with. Add spinach and kale to your favorite fruit smoothie to mask the taste, and you’ll start each morning with a healthy serving of veggies.

Replace pasta with vegetable noodles. Zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, turnips, and parsnips can all be spiralized. Choose your favorite and get to work.

If you love vegetables but can’t seem to get enough fruit, think of all the ways you can substitute fruit for dessert. Roll mashed up bananas in melted dark chocolate and freeze it for a healthy after-dinner treat. Add some greek yogurt to a bowl of strawberries and dig in.

Make it fun. Try out a new recipe every week. Bring your family or a group of friends together and make it a competition. Whoever makes the best dish gets bragging rights for the week.

Whatever you do, just don’t give up.

3. Fiber is Your Friend

What is fiber really? Simply put, it’s a carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. The best source is plant foods. By increasing the fiber in your diet, you’ll open yourself up to all kinds of health advantages.

Because your body can’t break it down, fiber slows down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer, which will reduce the risk of overeating. It also helps protect the lining of your colon, which can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

We recommend a minimum of 30 grams of fiber daily.

When incorporating more fiber into your diet, take it slow. 30 grams of fiber is a great goal to have, but you shouldn’t start there. Too much fiber or a sudden increase could lead to digestive discomfort. Give your body time to adjust.

Still not sure what fiber is or how to incorporate it safely into your diet? Check out this table to find out how many grams of fiber are in the food you eat every day and start planning how to maximize your intake.

4. Soak Up Some Rays

While the studies on how vitamin D can affect cancer are inconclusive, its benefits will still lead you to a healthier lifestyle.

Vitamin D helps boost your immune system and promotes the development of bones and teeth.  It can also reduce the effects of depression, and some studies show that it may even help you lose weight.

Luckily for us, getting more vitamin D is as simple as stepping outside. Our bodies produce it naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight.

So take a book outside and read for thirty minutes. Cookout with the family and eat in your backyard. Open your sunroof or let the top down while you drive. Just make sure to wear sunscreen, or you may put yourself at risk of developing skin cancer.

If you can’t get enough sun or don’t have any sunscreen, incorporate more Vitamin D into your diet. Salmon, tuna, egg yolks, orange juice, cereal, and yogurt are all excellent sources.

5. Drink In Moderation

Sometimes, you just need a drink. Be it a long day at work, a stressful night with the kids, or an afternoon spent in stop-and-go traffic. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just part of being human.

Alcohol in moderation can help take the edge off, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But drinking in excess can increase your likelihood of getting cancer.

Men should limit themselves to two drinks a day. Women’s bodies take longer to break down alcohol, so they should limit themselves to just one drink.  This consists of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Make sure your drinks are spread throughout the week. Having one drink a day isn’t the same as having seven drinks one day out of the week. Avoid binge-drinking because it may lead to other unhealthy behaviors.

Try substituting tea for alcohol when you need to relax. Decaffeinated green tea works wonders on stress and helps you sleep. Peppermint, chamomile, and black tea are some other good options to help you decompress.

Not usually a fan of tea? Add honey or lemon juice to sweeten it up naturally.

6. Try Not to Stress

This may be easier said than done, but keeping your stress levels low is a great way to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Stress may not cause cancer, but it does cause other unhealthy behaviors. It can lead to smoking, overeating, and drinking in excess – all of which increases your likelihood of getting cancer.

For people suffering from cancer, stress has been linked to tumor growth and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. These feelings are associated with higher death rates.

One way to deal with stress is to increase your serotonin levels.

Serotonin is widely known as the feel good chemical. It helps with digestion and regulates our moods. We even produce it when we laugh.

Try meditating, spending time in nature, and exercising. If you have a pet, play with them. If not, listen to music and relax. All of these behaviors can help reduce your stress.

7. Care About Your Environment

Did you know that outdoor air pollution has gotten so bad that it can now cause cancer? The IARC identified air pollution as a carcinogen that can cause lung cancer and put you at a higher risk of bladder cancer.

If we didn’t already have enough reasons to care about our environment before, we do now. Lucky for us, leading a healthier lifestyle and reducing air pollution go hand-in-hand.

Try biking to work instead of driving. Walk down the street to buy lunch instead of using your car. Volunteer to help pick up trash on the beach. You’ll be surprised at how many calories you can burn while you work to make our earth a cleaner place.

8. Know Your History

Many of us can find out whether we’re at risk of getting cancer by knowing what’s in our genes. Talk to your family. Find out what diseases have plagued the earlier generations and get a head start on preventing them.

There are two types of cancer – hereditary and sporadic. 

Hereditary cancers occur because of inherited gene mutations. Sporadic cancers occur without inheriting gene mutations.

When you learn about your family history, you may be able to identify signs of hereditary cancer. Have any of your family members been diagnosed at an unusually young age for their form of cancer, had a rare form of cancer (such as male breast cancer or sarcoma), or been diagnosed with multiple cancers?

If so, you may be at a higher risk of developing cancer.

So talk to your parents, your grandparents, and your siblings. See what they know. It doesn’t have to be a chore. You may even get some great stories out of it.

Interested in developing a healthier lifestyle or learning more about your genetic makeup? Call Dr. Threlkel today and set up an appointment!

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel

Dr. Karen Threlkel

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National University of Natural Medicine Medicine in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from UMD. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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