When it comes to cancer, research shows that healthy eating, exercising and staying a healthy weight lower the risk of the most common cancers and help cancer survivors. These same habits also reduce risk of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
But changing habits is challenging. If your list of health resolutions is overwhelming, start with just one. Here, experts in the field of cancer prevention and survivorship suggest one action you can take to start lowering the risk of cancer and/or live healthier as a survivor. Listed in no particular order, select what resonates with you.
As our experts agree: There is no better time to improve your health than now.
Find joy in activity
It doesn’t matter what it is; solo or social, indoors or outdoors, high or low intensity, competitive or just for fun…anything as long as you are moving. The more you enjoy it, the more you’ll do it. Movement, exercise, activity, call it what you like, it confers so many benefits, that cannot be measured by a number on a scale, for your mind, body and metabolism. Make it a habit; it will literally change your life!
– Nigel Brockton, PhD, AICR’s Vice President of Research
Healthy Living calendar
Start by downloading AICR’s Healthy Living Calendar today to incorporate a healthy habit into your current routine like trying a new vegetable or going for a bike ride. The calendar provides gentle but motivating goals each day for a month to help gradually create healthy habits that will promote long lasting behavior change. You can join AICR’s Healthy10 Challenge, a 10-week interactive program focusing on diet, nutrition and physical activity to lower cancer risk and other chronic diseases—another great resource to add to your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
– Sheena Patel, MS, RDN, AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs
Choose one do-able healthy upgrade to your eating habits.
Take a look at AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations and consider where you could improve. Select the one that sounds good/doable for you. For example: add one serving of vegetables to your lunch on most days or drink at least one less sugary beverage a day.
– Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR Nutrition Consultant
Start each day by weighing yourself
By getting on the scale every day, it is a reminder of how important weight management is to health and cancer prevention. It serves as a mental reminder that may stop you from snacking between meals or from taking that second serving. It is one of the most powerful tools that people who successfully lose weight and keep it off use to maintain a healthful weight.
– Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD., AICR grantee, Director for Cancer Prevention and Control for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
Think small, sustainable changes to make a big difference
Instead of large and dramatic yet short-lived changes, the best bet is small sustainable changes, such as: If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, aspire to smoke 19. Once you get to 19, aspire to 18 and so on; If you drink more alcohol than you think is healthy, try to consume one less drink per day. The same rule applies to sugar sweetened beverages. And if you carry extra weight, a great initial goal is to prevent additional weight gain. Small and steady weight loss further improves health.
– Justin C. Brown, PhD, AICR grantee, Assistant Professor, and Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University
At each meal, make some food swap to include more of a fiber-containing food
Do this your way. It could be by making a fiber-containing food you already include a larger part of the plate, as you make another food smaller, or choosing a food with fiber (such as whole grains) to replace a food with little or no fiber (refined grain). If the range of fiber-rich foods in your usual eating habits is pretty limited, explore the AICR website recipes and other print or online cookbooks for ideas of how cultures make vegetables, whole grains, and legumes a central part of delicious dishes. Eating more fiber-rich foods should enhance — not limit — the variety of delicious foods you eat!
– Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, Nutrition Advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research
This has benefits not just for cancer, but for most common chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Get 150 minutes a week for [lower cancer risk/recurrence] benefits. Ideas for getting that amount of exercise include: Taking a walk for 30 minutes a day; Planned exercise sessions, group or individual; Use a pedometer, Fitbit, or other electronic trackers to work toward 10,000 steps per day.
– Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, AICR grantee, Associate Director of Population Sciences at Penn State University College of Medicine
Make a SMART goal for a new activity
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. I suggest making a SMART Goal and choosing a specific number of minutes or steps for a new activity. Use the SMART Goal as a way to continue to improve by increasing the number of minutes/steps each week. For example: Three days this week, I will walk 15 minutes. Then next week increase the number of days or number of minutes.
– Angela Hummel, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, consulting dietitian with AICR