Staying healthy doesn't have to break the bank


Dana-Farber experts offer free and easy tips to stay healthy and reduce cancer risks

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The tough economic times are causing many people to tighten the belt on personal finances. But trimming fat from the budget, such as cancelling gym memberships, doesn't have to lead to an expanding waistline.

Experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offer the following free and low-cost strategies to help maintain good health as well as possibly reduce various cancer risks.

Get walking

Staying fit and healthy can be as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and going for a walk. Moderate to intensive aerobic exercise, according to studies, also can reduce the risk of recurrence of several cancers, including colon and breast.

"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, a Dana-Farber gastrointestinal cancer specialist.

A study by Meyerhardt found that colon cancer survivors who exercised regularly had a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence or dying. "The most consistent evidence we have so far for reducing the risk of several types of cancer is exercise and avoiding becoming obese."

Meyerhardt says there are many free or inexpensive ways to work out, but recommends consulting a doctor first. Some tips include:

  • Using the stairs rather than an elevator.
  • Walking or riding a bike rather than driving.
  • Taking an exercise break or quick walk at work.
  • Playing a team sport.
  • Using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.

"An apple a day..."

It doesn't cost anything to walk by the cookie aisle and into a store's produce section, but taking that little detour can provide many health benefits. A diet that is low in processed sugars, red meat, and calories, but high in fruits and vegetables and loaded with antioxidants, is one of the simplest ways to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Eating one or more apples a day is a good start. Studies have found that this may reduce the risk of breast, mouth, and colorectal cancer. The skin of an apple contains the cancer-fighting antioxidant quercetin.

Stacy L. Kennedy, MPH, RD, LDN a nutritionist at Dana-Farber, says that eating apples uncooked and unpeeled provides the most benefit from the quercetin.

"Many of the beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables are concentrated in the pigment or rich colors, which are often in the skins."

Other foods that are both healthy and cancer-fighting include pumpkin, sweet potato, squash (butternut and acorn), carrots, and other orange fruits and vegetables. They contain carotenoids, a cancer-fighting nutrient that has been shown to lower the risk of colon, prostate, lung, and breast cancer.

Quit smoking: Save money and lives

Buying cigarettes and other tobacco products can really take a bite out of a budget. Kicking the habit can result in both a healthy lifestyle and 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.

"Even though there have been many recent advances in lung cancer treatments, the most effective way to eradicate lung cancer is to prevent it from ever happening," explains Bruce Johnson, MD, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber.

Johnson and his colleagues emphasize 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.

Quitting smoking isn't easy, but the following tips may help those who want to quit:

  • Plan the quit day: Choose the method of quitting, recruit help, support and encouragement from family and friends, and remember the reasons for quitting, such as family, children, or personal health.
  • Follow the four Ds:
    • Deep breaths;
    • Drink lots of water;
    • Do something to avoid focusing on cigarette cravings;
    • Delay reaching for a cigarette the urge will pass.
     
  • Avoid triggers: Get rid of cigarettes, lighters, matches, and ashtrays, and avoid being around people who are smoking.

Limit use of alcohol

Limiting alcohol consumption can save money and it may lower the risk of developing some cancers. Researchers at Dana-Farber found that postmenopausal 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. "Our findings indicate that in some postmenopausal women, even modest levels of alcohol consumption may elevate their risk of breast cancer."

The bottom line, the Dana-Farber experts agree, is that many people can simply and inexpensively improve their health, and possibly reduce numerous cancer risks, by exercising, eating more fruits and vegetables, stopping smoking, and, if they consume alcohol, drinking it in moderation.

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