Aging & Health A to Z
Lifestyle & Management
Changing Your Daily Routine Can Help You Stay Healthy
Your daily habits may make the difference between staying healthy or not. This is true for many diseases, and cancer is one of them. Following a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of getting cancer and keep you healthy longer. A healthy lifestyle means that you should:
- Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
- Keep to a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially brightly colored ones
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Minimize your exposure to radiation and chemicals
- Protect your skin from too much sun, especially if you burn easily
- Educate yourself about your family history and personal risk factors
- Have regular check-ups and cancer screening when appropriate.
Smoking not only causes 90% of lung cancers in men and 80% in women, but it also causes cancer in other parts of the body. Cells and tissues are damaged immediately from tobacco smoke, and the more you smoke, the less your body is able to heal the damage. Smoking “light”, “mild”, “low-tar”, or menthol cigarettes does not lower your risk of disease. Chewing tobacco and taking snuff also raise the risk of cancer.
In the US, there are many government-sponsored programs to help you quit smoking. Call toll-free to speak to a National Cancer Institute counselor: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). A free “LiveHelp” online chat with a counselor is also available at1-800-4CANCER (1-800-422-6237). Another excellent website that has helped many smokers quit is http://smokefree.gov.
No single food or supplement can protect you against cancer. However, a diet rich in plant foods is thought to help prevent the disease and even slow it down if you are already diagnosed with cancer.
Plants are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are also lower in calories and saturated fats than meats. This makes it easier to protect against fat accumulation—known to be linked to certain cancers, especially in older women—and weight gain.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that at least two-thirds of your normal dinner plate should be filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. The following foods are especially recommended:
- legumes – beans, soybeans, peas, lentils
- cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy,
- dark green leafy vegetables – spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory, swiss chard
- garlic, onions and leeks
- grapes and grape juice
- green tea
- soy products – tofu, soymilk, miso, tempeh, soynuts
- tomatoes, particularly tomato sauce, paste, or juice
- whole grains.
Recent research has shown that people who exercise lower their risk for several types of cancer. The more active you are, the more you can lower your cancer risk. For colorectal cancer, the risk reduction is about 30-40% if you exercise moderately to vigorously for 30-60 minutes daily. You may also reduce your risk of breast, endometrial, lung, and prostate cancer, according to scientific studies.
Researchers have also found that you may also improve your survival time after a diagnosis of cancer if you exercise regularly. Even moderate walking for as little as three to five hours per week may improve survival rates in breast cancer and colon cancer patients.
Managing Your Cancer Symptoms
You will probably have symptoms at some points during your illness, either from the disease itself or as a result of treatment. Symptoms vary from person to person, and you may react differently to the same treatment at different times.
Many symptoms and side effects can be minimized or completely avoided. Make sure that your healthcare professional knows how you are feeling. Your healthcare team will devise a plan to help you manage any pain or discomfort you may be experiencing. Many strategies are available to help manage your symptoms.
Your healthcare providers will describe possible side effects when you begin a new treatment. Keep records of how you react so that you can report any side effects to the team right away.
Many cancer patients experience great comfort and benefit from participating in support groups that are made up of other people with similar types of cancer. Support group members, as well as your healthcare team, may also be able to connect you with helpful programs in your community such as:
- stress reduction classes – for example yoga or meditation groups
- caregiver and family assistance programs
- tips for improving your daily function and activities of daily living
- help in learning to take an active role in your treatment
- educational programs – to help you understand your medications, your illness, and any complications you may be experiencing (such as depression).
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012