Over the past year, I’ve taken a few steps to live a healthier lifestyle by eating better, exercising more, and focusing on being positive when challenges arise. It didn’t take long at all before I noticed how much better I felt.
With February being National Cancer Prevention Month, I was curious if any of these lifestyle changes could help in other ways. How greatly could they reduce my risk of disease?While it’s not possible to guarantee prevention against cancer, a healthy lifestyle can help, according to Santosh Rao, MD, medical oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Arizona.
Here are five things Dr. Rao suggests you can do to reduce your risk:
- Don’t smoke, or quit if you do smoke. This is a big one, and the benefit is strongest among those who quit at a younger age.
- Limit your exposure to the sun. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UV-B and UV-A rays, rated SPF 30 or higher. Apply at least an ounce 30 minutes before sun exposure, and every two hours thereafter. (I wish I’d followed this advice better. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to undergo several minor procedures to remove small areas of skin cancer.)
- Don’t drink alcohol in excess. While some studies find that alcohol in limited amounts can be healthy, excessive drinking may increase risk of cancer and lead to other health problems.
- Maintain a healthy weight. For most of us, including myself, this involves eating more fruits and vegetables (at least five to nine servings a day) and fewer processed foods.
Exercising daily for at least 30 minutes can also help you maintain your weight and improve your health.
- Be sure to visit your doctor regularly and get the appropriate health screenings for your age and risk factors. You can follow these accepted recommendations, but always consult with your physician:
- Schedule your first colonoscopy at age 50
- Men should begin PSA testing for prostate cancer at age 60
- Women should start mammograms at age 40
- Women should begin pap tests for cervical cancer at age 21
- Here in Arizona, annual skin checks for sun damage are also recommended
Once I started feeling significantly better every day, I started asking myself a basic question whenever I started feeling too lazy to exercise or began craving a lot of junk food.
Why would I ever want to go back to feeling unhealthy again, when life can offer so much more?