Over 40,000 Internet search queries each month ask about cancer prevention. But what you get from this search includes so many ideas that it’s hard to know which are actually grounded in sound science. This overwhelming abundance of information can be a barrier that leaves you more and more “stuck” thinking and reading, but not doing.
Sound research is relatively consistent on some good news: about 40 percent of U.S. cancer cases are preventable.
Problem 1: Where to Focus?
- Look beyond family history. Cancer is a disease that stems from genetic changes, but only about 5-10 percent of cancers involve inherited mutations in cancer genes. A far bigger factor is damage to genes that occurs throughout life. Some of that damage occurs through aging and environmental exposures (like tobacco smoke and radiation). Diet and lifestyle can influence not only damage and repair of genes, but also how genes are expressed – essentially affecting how vulnerable you are to factors that put you at risk.
- Look beyond tobacco. People who smoke, use smokeless tobacco or are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke are at greater risk of several types of cancer. There’s no question about it. But despite the great success in reducing rates of smoking in the U.S., other choices – like eating habits and physical activity – remain largely unchanged in increasing risk of cancer.
- The AICR Recommendations for Cancer Prevention are based on nearly 10,000 studies. These recommendations narrow down the many potential actions you could take to 10 priorities for diet, weight and physical activity that (in addition to the well-known importance of avoiding tobacco and excess sun exposure) are based on the strongest evidence.
There are lots of ways to make healthier choices. But for the actions you can take that are most likely to make a difference for lower cancer risk and better health, make the AICR Recommendations your focus.
Problem 2: How to Find Specific, Achievable Steps?
Once you decide to use the AICR Recommendations to steer you in a sound direction, you still face the challenge of the day-to-day choices that can keep you on the right path or take you on a detour.
- Amidst confusing claims and labels, how can you pick foods that really are nutritious?
- How do you realistically transition from couch- or desk-potato to having moderate activity as a daily habit?
- When a list of healthy habits seems like too much to tackle at once, how can you find the small steps that can be maintained and turned into a lifestyle that doesn’t need constant willpower?
Fortunately, science has progressed not only in understanding more about how cancer develops, but in other areas, too. Research has allowed us to learn more about how habits form and how people can most effectively change behavior.
- Set specific, realistic goals to reach one step at a time, rather than vague “eat healthy, be active” resolutions that get you nowhere.
- Start small and learn a few new skills at a time to gradually shape behaviors, rather than expecting overnight perfection.
- Find or create a network of support so that you don’t feel like you’re alone in a culture that talks “health”, but promotes anything but a consistent healthy lifestyle. That support can come from friends or family making changes with you and celebrating each small win, health professionals providing solid advice or a virtual community of people heading in the same direction of a healthy lifestyle based on today’s best science.
In short, while the AICR Recommendations provide a compass to help keep you on track, behavior change science shows you will do better with specific support to guide your journey.
A Solution to Consider: The Healthy10 Challenge
AICR’s new Healthy10 Challenge is a free, 10-week online program designed to help people improve their eating and physical activity habits. On this step-by-step journey, you create a lifestyle that reduces cancer risk and cancer recurrence, helps reach and maintain a healthy weight and improves overall health.
Each weekly challenge offers an up-close look at one aspect of AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations. Throughout the program you will:
- Learn basic tips about choosing healthy foods and how to prepare them in ways that are simple and delicious.
- Figure out how to include more movement in your day gradually and safely – in ways that either energize or calm you, but don’t exhaust you.
- Find the healthy habits that fit your personal preferences and lifestyle to replace the not-so-healthy ones.
A Health Professional’s View
I recommend the Healthy10 Challenge as a tool for the public and for my fellow health professionals. Here’s why:
- People get the step-by-step guide they need, with plenty of room for personalization to get from whatever their starting point is to a lifestyle that’s more cancer-protective and health-promoting.
- Those who want a no-gimmicks approach to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight find help creating a practical lifestyle.
- People who are looking ahead after cancer, find help figuring out a “new normal” lifestyle that supports long-term health without robbing them of joy in food and movement.
- Health professionals find a tool they can incorporate to bolster their care as it provides the small steps and frequent follow-up that they know promotes behavior change, but that can otherwise seem financially or practically out of reach to provide.
It’s Easy to Get Started
Go to the Healthy10 Challenge and click the “Accept the Challenge” button to sign up for no cost.
Each week, the spotlight will be on one specific goal you set. And you’ll get three weekly emails to help you stay focused and on-track. You’ll have 24/7 access to a website full of tips, recipes and more – each focused to support whichever of the 10 challenges you’re working on at that time.
But you can take this at your own pace. If life gets in the way one week, or if you want to take a little longer on one goal, you can. If you want to go back and work on a past week’s goal, you can.
The challenge is engaging, accessible for all adults and family-friendly.
It’s not a race or a competition. And the benefits are not all-or-nothing.
The only way you don’t win is if you stay stuck in the overwhelm of information overload. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, let the AICR Recommendations be your compass, and give the Heathy10 Challenge a try as your roadmap.