Positive lifestyle changes can help reduce cancer risk and boost the overall health of cancer survivors By Zoey Sky for Super Foods
Studies show that following a balanced diet, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are key to reducing your risk of developing some common cancers and improving the well-being of cancer survivors.
These good habits can also protect against other chronic diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, making changes can be difficult if you are used to an unhealthy lifestyle.
If you’re struggling to maintain your habits, experts recommend starting small and working your way up to other health goals.
A team of experts in the field of cancer prevention and survivorship from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) suggests taking one action “to start lowering the risk of cancer and/or live healthier as a survivor.”
Use the Healthy Living calendar
Sheena Patel, the AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs, recommends downloading the AICR’s Healthy Living Calendar.
This calendar features a helpful 30-day checklist that will help improve your eating habits and encourage you to exercise more. This guide can also help you make healthy choices to reduce your cancer risk.
The checklist includes suggestions like how to incorporate a healthy habit into your current routine, like cooking meals with a new vegetable or going for a bike ride.
If you have a lot of unhealthy habits, the calendar can motivate you to accomplish different goals for each day of the month. These consistent reminders will help foster good habits that will promote long-lasting behavior changes.
You can also join AICR’s Healthy10 Challenge, a 10-week interactive program that focuses on diet, nutrition and physical activity to reduce cancer risk and other chronic diseases.
Start with small, sustainable changes
Justin C. Brown, an AICR grantee and director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, recommends focusing on small sustainable changes instead of large and dramatic but short-lived changes.
If you drink too much soda than you think is healthy, try to reduce your intake by one less drink a day.
If you are overweight, focus on preventing additional weight gain instead of trying to lose 10 pounds in one week. Small and steady weight loss is crucial for your well-being.
Choose one doable healthy upgrade to your eating habits
Alice Bender, an AICR Nutrition Consultant, says AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations can help you find goals that are good for you.
Instead of going vegan when you love red meat, start by adding one serving of vegetables to your lunch every other day of the week and limiting your intake of meat. (Related: Study shows apigenin, a compound in parsley, offers cancer-fighting benefits.)
Eat more fiber-rich foods
Karen Collins, a Nutrition Advisor at the AICR, suggests increasing your intake of dietary fiber.
If you love fiber-rich superfoods like beans, make it a larger part of the plate and make another food smaller. Alternatively, you can choose a food with fiber like whole grains to replace a food with little or no fiber, like refined grains.
If you have a limited range of fiber-rich foods in your usual eating habits, check out recipes on the AICR website recipes or other print or online cookbooks for tips on how other cultures make vegetables, whole grains and legumes as main ingredients for various dishes.
Weigh yourself daily
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for cancer prevention. If you find yourself struggling to lose weight, weighing yourself daily can help give you a mental reminder to reduce unhealthy snacking between meals.
Regular weight checks is one of the most powerful tools used by people who successfully lose weight, said Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, an AICR grantee.
AICR Vice President of Research Nigel Brockton advocates regular physical activity. If you prefer social activities, play basketball with your friends.
If you enjoy solo activities, try cycling. Whatever your preferences, any activity is good for you as long as it gets you off of the couch and sweating.
If you hate going to the gym and lifting weights, look for an activity that you enjoy so you can motivate yourself to work out.
AICR grantee Kathryn Schmitz said exercise offers benefits not just for cancer, but for many common chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Once you find fun activities that encourage you to work out, try to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.
You can reach your goal by taking a walk for 30 minutes a day and planning exercise sessions. Use a pedometer or other electronic trackers to reach 10,000 steps per day.
Have a SMART goal for a new activity
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based, said Angela Hummel, a consulting dietitian with AICR.
When starting a new activity, make a SMART Goal and specify the number of minutes or steps for your fitness goal.
With the SMART Goal, you can continue to improve by increasing the number of minutes or steps each week. When starting a workout regimen, start by walking for at least 15 minutes three days a week.
The next week, try to increase the number of days or number of minutes. As you get used to exercising, gradually increase the minutes or steps to meet your goals.
Healthy appetizer recipes
These recipes from the AICR website include healthy ingredients linked to cancer prevention like fruits, leafy greens and other vegetables.
Avocado deviled eggs
This recipe replaces mayonnaise with creamy avocados.
Ingredients for 12 servings (two egg halves):
- 12 eggs
- 2 medium avocados, chopped
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/4 Teaspoon salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Sprinkle of paprika
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
- Hard boil the eggs by placing them in an even layer in a large pot covered by two inches of cold water. Heat the pot on high and bring to a rolling boil, then immediately turn off the heat, cover the pot with the lid and let the eggs sit on the hot burner for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the boiled eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool, then peel the eggs.
- Slice the eggs lengthwise and scoop out the yolks. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the avocados to the yolks and mash with a fork until completely mixed.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except the paprika. Stir to combine.
- Carefully scoop one tablespoon or so of the yolk and avocado mixture into each egg white half.
- Sprinkle with paprika to garnish and top with jalapeno, if using.
Brussels sprouts and apple slaw
This slaw combines Brussels sprouts with juicy apples with tart cranberries and crunchy walnuts.
Ingredients for eight servings (1/2 cup):
- 3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts
- 1 Fuji or Gala apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 2/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 Teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Trim the bottom from the Brussels sprouts and remove loose or bruised leaves. Place the shredding disc or fine-slicing disc in a food processor and use a feeder tube to gradually shred the Brussels sprouts. You should have about 4 1/2 cups.
- Transfer the shredded sprouts to a mixing bowl. Add the apple, cranberries, walnuts, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir with a fork to combine.
- Add the oil to the mixture and stir well. Cover and refrigerate the slaw for one to three hours or overnight for the flavors to marinate.
- Re-stir before serving.
Broccoli apple salad
On their own, broccoli and apple are superfood powerhouses. But combining them and adding other ingredients like carrots and pecans makes a tasty salad.
Ingredients for eight servings:
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup carrots, shredded
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
- 2 apples, diced
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Combine the broccoli, carrots, onion, apples, pecans and cranberries in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice and honey.
- Combine the yogurt mixture with the vegetable mixture and toss well.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.