Lowering Cancer Risk Through Diet and Exercise

Cancer can happen to anyone. Still, a healthy lifestyle can definitely help push the odds in your favor. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 20 to 40 percent of all cancers and about half of cancer deaths are linked to lifestyle factors such as poor diet and lack of physical activity.

The basic advice: Get some real exercise most days of the week, maintain a healthy weight, and eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. It sounds simple, but of course it’s hard to make that commitment — so hard, in fact, that most people fall short.

Basics for preventing cancer

The American Cancer Society offers the following tips for a cancer-resistant lifestyle.

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Having fruits or vegetables at every meal and eating them for snacks can make that goal a lot easier.
  • Choose 100 percent juice, if you drink juice.
  • When possible, choose whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread instead of processed (refined) grains such as white rice and anything made with white flour.
  • Limit french fries, snack chips, and other fried food.
  • Eat red meats only once in awhile, and really go easy on meats that are high in fat, such as hamburgers and bratwursts. Instead, you can get your protein from fish, poultry, and beans.
  • Prepare meat by baking, broiling, or poaching it, rather than by frying or grilling it. Charred meat can contain cancer-causing agents.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re already overweight, losing a few pounds could lower your risk.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, go easy. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Alcohol consumption has been shown to raise the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, and breast. It may also increase the risk of colon and rectal cancers. A 2010 study suggests that breast cancer survivors who have just a few drinks a week are more likely than nondrinkers to suffer a relapse.
  • Go easy on refined, sugary foods and drinks such as pastries, sweetened cereals, and regular sodas.
  • When eating away from home, choose food that is low in fat, calories, and sugar. If you get served a large portion — typical of today’s chain restaurants — take half of it home and save it for another meal.
  • Stay away from high-calorie foods like pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice cream when possible. When reading nutrition labels, remember that “low fat” and even “fat free” does not mean “low calorie.”
  • Adults should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week. (Forty-five to 60 minutes daily is even better.) Walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, dancing with friends, riding a stationary bike while watching TV –it all counts.
  • Build exercise into your daily life — walk or bike to your destinations whenever possible.
  • Wear a pedometer every day and increase your number of steps.
  • Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on five or more days a week. Don’t count on gym class to give them all of the exercise they need.


Cleveland Clinic. Diet, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle help reduce cancer risk. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/cancer/hic_promoting_a_healthy_lifestyle_with_diet_and_nutrition_to_prevent_cancer.aspx

American Cancer Society. Guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. Guidelines for Cancer Prevention. 2016. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002577-pdf.pdf

American Cancer Society. The Complete Guide: Nutritional and Physical Activity. www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content

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