Updated: Aug 29
You may not be able to control external causes of cancer like poor air quality and exposure to infectious agents, but you do have control over several lifestyle choices that can greatly decrease your risk of getting cancer. The following tips will get you healthier, stronger, lighter on your feet and could also keep you cancer free.
Obesity and cancer
People with an unhealthy amount of body fat are at a greater risk for many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to have conditions that cause chronic inflammation which over time can cause damage to DNA and lead to cancer. Obesity holds a risk factor for gallbladder inflammation and gallstones which increases the risk for gallbladder cancer. Ulcerative colitis is a risk factor for liver cancer. Increased fat tissue produces increased amounts of estrogen which has been linked to ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers.
Often, obese people have increased levels of insulin, which could encourage cancers of the kidney, colon and prostate to develop. In addition, fat cells produce hormones called adipokines, which can promote cancer cell growth, and these cells increase with increasing body fat.
“Studies have provided consistent evidence that people who have lower weight gain during adulthood have lower risks of colon cancer, kidney cancer, and for postmenopausal women, breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.” - National Cancer Institute
Losing weight and improving your health can feel overwhelming, but the good news is, after losing 10% of your body weight, the necessary metabolic changes will begin to occur and get you on track to a healthier life. Since 80% of weight loss is diet, and 20% is exercise, starting with dietary changes is the place to begin. Becoming more active is definitely important, but it’s recommended you lose the 10% of your body weight before starting any vigorous exercise program.
Nutrition and cancer
Making fruits and vegetables a part of your daily diet is the best bet for preventing cancer. They are the most natural source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that also contain potential anticarcinogenic substances. For instance, apples contain quercetin, which is a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Avocados are rich in glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower contain a component called indole-3-carbinol that can convert cancer promoting estrogen into a more protective variety combating breast cancer. Ideally, choosing fresh produce in a variety of colors, and eating at least 10 servings a day will offer you the best benefit against cancer.
“If the only change people made was to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, cancer rates could drop by at least 20 percent.” - The American Institute for Cancer Research
There is an indisputable link between a diet rich in saturated fats and cancer. Not only should your daily dietary calories from fat be less than 30 percent, but the type of fat consumed is just as important. Try to focus on Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, nuts, and seeds. Steer away from Omega-6 fatty acids such as corn oil, soybean oil and mayonnaise which can actually promote cancer growth.
Diets high in meat and animal products have been confirmed to increase the risk of cancers such as, colon, prostate, breast and lung. Meat contains saturated fats and other potentially carcinogenic compounds that can form when meat is cooked at higher temperatures, such as grilling and barbecuing.
Here are some helpful tips to focus on when grocery shopping and meal planning. To reduce exposure to pesticides, buy organic foods whenever possible. A healthy daily serving of animal products should be no more than the size of the palm of your hand. Try to avoid deep fried, charbroiled or fatty meats. Read labels and look for the words organic, grass fed, free-range, and fiber. Steer clear of the words hydrogenated, nitrates, nitrites, high fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrate.
Strength Training and Cancer
Strength training will add so many benefits to your life, such as stronger bones, more muscle to lift things and climb mountains, ward off heart disease, improve blood sugar control, and increase your metabolism to burn calories, just to name a few. It is also a key factor in preventing cancer.
Building strength through proper exercise helps reduce inflammation and improves immune system function, allowing it to fight off disease. It also helps lower levels of certain hormones like estrogen and insulin. This is important because there has been a proven correlation between increased levels of these hormones and cancer either developing or progressing.
“After studying 80,000 adults, the team concluded that strength training is more effective at prolonging life than cardio workouts. The study successfully factored in a myriad of health variables, such as age, health status and lifestyle. Even when accounting for these factors, the study found that strength training twice a week reduced the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31%. In fact, the overall likelihood for any type of premature death decreased by 23%.” -National Foundation for Cancer Research
It’s recommended that adults perform strength training two times per week for 20-30 minutes. If you don’t have access to weights or workout machines, there are effective exercises you can do right at home. Please see my blog article on at-home Timed Static Contraction exercises, to show you how.
You’ve got this!
So, you now know that the 3 main ingredients for proactively preventing cancer are, a healthy body weight, the importance of a diet rich in real, nutrient dense foods, and the importance of building strong muscles through strength training. If you look at how these 3 things work together you will also see that they are actually interconnected. We know that being overweight puts people at a higher risk of cancer, but we also know that eating healthy, unprocessed foods and strength training will cause you to lose weight. Real food fills us and satisfies us more than junk food, making it easier to eat less, while building muscle increases your metabolism allowing you to burn more calories. When you focus on these 3 things, it’s a win, win, win!