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 causes 90% of lung cancers in men and 80% in women. It can also cause cancer in other parts of the body, including the mouth. Cells and tissues are damaged immediately from tobacco smoke. 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. The National Cancer Institute has two toll-free hotlines that allow you to speak to a counselor in English or Spanish.
- 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848) provides assistance in quitting smoking.
- 1-800-4CANCER (1-800-422-6237) provides additional information about cancer.
- You may also call 1–800–QUIT–NOW (1–800–784–8669) to be connected to your state’s telephone quitline.
Another excellent website that has helped many smokers quit is http://smokefree.gov, including their section for older adults, https://60plus.smokefree.gov/.
No single food or supplement can protect you against cancer. However, short-term research studies have suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in plant foods and whole grains may prevent certain cancers.
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 weight gain and fat accumulation (known to be linked to certain cancers, especially in older women).
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 such as beans, soybeans, peas, lentils
- cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy
- dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory, swiss chard
- garlic, onions, and leeks
- grapes and grape juice
- green tea
- soy products such as 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. A regular exercise routine that includes moderate-intensity exercise 30-60 minutes each day is recommended for most healthy adults.
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 can vary from person to person, and you may also 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 provider knows how you are feeling. Your healthcare team will come up with a plan to help you manage pain or discomfort. They may also seek the help of a palliative care provider to keep you comfortable. A palliative care provider is a specialist who treats pain and cancer symptoms. Numerous studies show that cancer patients have better results by adding palliative care to their standard cancer treatments.
Many cancer patients experience great comfort when participating in support groups that include 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: February 2018
Posted: March 2012