The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many of us quarantined at home and some of us have had to adjust to working from home, cooking more meals and entertaining little ones. While this has created many challenges, staying at home also provides an opportunity to rethink our lifestyle behaviors and determine where there is room for improvement.
We can use this new normal to reassess our eating habits, physical activity levels and other modifiable lifestyle factors that have a direct impact on building a stronger immune system. We can use this momentum to focus on improving our health by introducing more lifestyle changes that can help reduce risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Here are a few recommendations that will help you jumpstart your journey to better health.
What’s your current health status?
First, consider your current health status. Have you been diagnosed with a chronic disease? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a chronic disease as a “condition that lasts 1 year or more and requires ongoing medical attention or limits activities of daily living or both.” The most common chronic diseases in the US are heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Most chronic diseases are caused by modifiable risk factors, meaning most people have control over their risk of developing the disease. The top four controllable behaviors include use of tobacco, consuming a diet low in plant-based foods, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol use.
How to be successful in changing your lifestyle habits
The number one factor that will make you successful in your efforts to make positive lifestyle changes is motivation and the desire to change. No one can do it for you or make you change your habits. Consider these:
- What is the driving force behind your desire to change?
- Do you have a new chronic disease diagnosis?
- Have you experienced a family member with a life-threatening medical concern?
- Has the recent pandemic made you reflect on your own personal health?
Improving your health using AICR resources
AICR has numerous resources and tools that are free to use and can help you make healthy changes to your lifestyle habits. Here are a few you can utilize to get started.
Cancer Prevention Recommendations
Around 40% of cancer cases can be prevented and AICR has used the latest research to create 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations. Read these recommendations and ask yourself: Are there areas I need to continue to improve on? Whether you need to eat more vegetables or be more physically active, choose one area to begin working on now. Once you feel confident that you have implemented healthy habits related to one recommendation, select another recommendation to begin working on.
Cancer Health Check
AICR’s Cancer Health Check is a free, online tool to help you assess your lifestyle choices related to diet, physical activity and more. After you complete the questionnaire, you will receive information on how you can change your habits to improve your health.
Take 5 minutes to complete the Cancer Health Check, record your results and begin slowly introducing healthier habits into your daily routine. After 12 weeks, take the Cancer Health Check again and compare your results. Did you make improvements?
New American Plate Model
Create healthy, well-balanced meals using AICR’s New American Plate model, which recommends filling your plate with 2/3 (or more) of vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) with animal protein.
Does your plate typically look like the above? If not, how many meals per week can you begin to make using the New American Plate? Set a realistic, weekly goal for how many meals you can make using this method. Once you are able to meet this goal, increase it by a few more meals each week. Repeat this process until you have completely incorporated the New American Plate eating principals into your weekly diet.
Other helpful resources
Making lifestyle changes is hard. If you find that you are struggling to make an impact on your health, consider seeking professional guidance from a registered dietitian. Use The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics dietitian locator to find a local registered dietitian.
Incorporating AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations into your lifestyle can not only help reduce your cancer risk, but can help reduce your risk for other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Here are specific recommendations for other common chronic diseases:
- Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention from The American Heart Association
- Diabetes Prevention from the American Diabetes Association
- High Blood Pressure Prevention and the DASH Diet
- Start now and live a tobacco-free life!
1. About Chronic Diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Published October 23, 2019. Accessed June 26, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm