Dana-Farber experts offer easy ways to stay healthy and reduce cancer risks
Indulge in a little too much eggnog and cookies this holiday season? The New Year is a great time to consider adding some healthy habits into the daily routine. Maintaining good health doesn't have to be hard. Experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offer seven easy strategies that can help just about anyone get on the road to good health and possibly help reduce cancer risk.
1. Get walking
Staying fit and healthy can be as simple as going for a walk. According to studies, people who exercise after diagnosis of a number of common cancers, including colon and breast cancers, have a lower risk of cancer recurrence. "You don't have to be a marathon runner, but the more you exercise, typically the greater the beneficial effect," says Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, clinical director of Dana-Farber's Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center.
A recent study showed that exercise can even help with joint pain related to a common drug used to treat breast cancer. "Exercise has been shown to have so many benefits from maintaining weight to reducing fatigue to improving overall quality of life," says Jennifer Ligibel, MD, a breast cancer specialist in Dana-Farber's Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers and senior author of the study.
Here are some inexpensive ways to work out, but always consult a doctor first:
- Using the stairs rather than an elevator.
- Walking or riding a bike rather than driving.
- Taking an exercise break or quick walk at work.
- Using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
- Trying a new team sport.
2. Eat a rainbow of color
Next trip to the grocery store, skip the snack aisle and head straight to the store's produce section. Taking that little detour to avoid processed sugar and fat can help reduce calories and provide many healthy benefits. Focusing on a diet high in fruits and vegetables will increase antioxidants and is one of the simplest ways to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
The goal is to eat colorful produce like carrots, pomegranates, tomatoes, grapes, squash, eggplant, berries, and broccoli. The brighter and richer the pigment, the higher the level of nutrients.
"In the nutrition world, we like to say if it comes from the ground and it stains your shirt, you want to be eating it," says Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber.
Kennedy also says drink plenty of water and try to limit red meat. She and her Dana-Farber nutrition colleagues offer a wealth of information and recipes on Dana-Farber's nutrition website and Dana-Farber's free nutrition app, Ask the Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer.
3. Skip that cocktail
The holidays are a time of parties and cocktails but moving into the New Year try limiting alcohol consumption. Studies find that it may lower the risk of developing some cancers. Dana-Farber researchers found that women who consume one alcoholic drink a day may increase their risk for breast cancer. "Women need to consider the possible effects of alcohol on breast cancer risk when weighing the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption," says Wendy Chen, MD, PhD, a breast cancer expert in Dana-Farber's Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers. "Our findings indicate that in some women, even modest levels of alcohol consumption may elevate their risk of breast cancer."
4. It's never too late to quit smoking
Quitting smoking can be very difficult but studies have shown that kicking the habit can result in a healthier lifestyle. And, if you're trying to tighten your spending, it can also lead to a significant financial savings.
According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. It also causes more than 80 percent of all cases of lung cancer and increases the risk of oral, throat, pancreatic, uterine, bladder, and kidney cancers.
"Quitting smoking can be an important first step but may also be one of the most difficult," says Pasi Jänne, MD, PhD, director of Dana-Farber's Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology. "It can take on average three times to quit. For those who have tried and failed, it's important to pick another quit date and try again." Jänne emphasizes that it is never too late to quit. People who stop and remain nonsmokers for at least 10 to 20 years can cut their risk of developing lung cancer in half.
Here are some tips that may help:
- Plan the quit day.
- Follow the four D's: Deep breaths, Drink lots of water, Do something to avoid focusing on cravings, Delay reaching for a cigarette — the urge will pass.
- Avoid triggers: Get rid of cigarettes, lighters, matches, and ashtrays.
5. Go Nuts
A recent study involving Dana-Farber researchers showed that people who ate a handful of nuts on a daily basis were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30 year period. On top of that, the nut-eaters were more slender than those who did not eat nuts.
"The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease — the major killer of people in America," said Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber and senior author of the study.
It did not seem to matter the type of nut. The results were similar for both peanuts and "tree nuts" — walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, pistachios and pine nuts.
6. Sunscreen 'applies' year round
Sunscreen shouldn't be packed away after summer ends. Skin can be exposed to harmful rays all year long. Snow, ice and water can all reflect the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that causes sunburn, which, in turn increases the risk of developing skin cancer. Some experts say winter sports enthusiasts can face just as much risk of getting sunburn as summer sunbathers. Dana-Farber experts remind to protect year round.
- Wear sunscreen, lip balm and makeup with an SPF of 15 or higher.
- Use UV-blocking eye protection, especially for skiing.
- In a tropical setting, wear a broad brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest.
7. Don't forget your dentist
Visiting the dentist is not just about clean and healthy teeth. Dentists also are on the front lines of detecting cancer in the mouth and can spot pre-cancerous lesions that can develop from smoking or chewing tobacco. In addition to the increased risk of cancer, smoking and using tobacco can erode teeth and gums. "The treatment for this type of head and neck cancer can be a radical and deforming surgery," warns Robert Haddad, MD, disease center leader of the Head and Neck Oncology Program at Dana-Farber. He stresses, "The changes in the cells never go away once they happen. So don't start using tobacco and if you have, get help to stop."