Reducing your Risk of Cancer: What you Really Should be Giving up this New Year

01 January 2019

Although cancer is linked to many things out of our control such as our genes and age, it may be surprising to learn that four in 10 cancers could be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle1.

The good news is that there are many ways can reduce your individual risk of cancer.

So, instead of trying another New Year fad diet or pricey gym membership, why not start incorporating some of these simple lifestyle changes into your 2019 plans?

Giving up the cigs

Ok, so we admit it – giving up smoking is no mean feat. But it really is worth talking about the health benefits of giving up smoking for good, which are not only vast, but start happening almost immediately.

Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette your pulse rate returns to normal and by the time you wake up the next morning, the nicotine and poisonous carbon monoxide levels in your blood will have reduced by half too2. After two days, all carbon monoxide and nicotine will be gone from the body and your lungs will start the process of clearing out the mucus and other debris from smoking2. Plus, your full sense of taste and smell will begin to return. All this and you’ll also reduce your risk of developing at least 15 different cancer types linked to smoking1.

Stopping being a couch potato

Let’s face it – no-one really wants to be outside for too long during January. And while we all know a gym bunny who can bore us silly about the benefits of the gym, not everyone knows that staying active is also a great way to reduce your risk of developing cancer1. So if getting in the great outdoors is not your idea of fun, why not try a few indoor-based activities like aerobics classes, swimming or badminton? For extra motivation you could ask a friend to hit the gym with you. 

According to the NHS, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate activity like cycling or brisk walking per week, as well as strength-building exercises on two or more days a week3. Although this may sound like a lot, you’ll probably be surprised how much activity you already do and how easily you may be able to increase this. Things like walking or cycling to work, choosing to take the stairs when possible and more gentle activities like yoga all count towards your weekly goal. Keeping active in this way means you’re much more likely to be a healthy weight.

Research shows staying a healthy weight reduces your risk of 13 different types of cancer1. Being active has also been shown to help with feelings of anxiety and depression4

Giving up refined food

It’s a little known fact that 28% of all bowel cancer cases are linked to a lack of fibre in the diet1. But what is fibre and how can we get enough of it into our diets?

In the diets most of us eat in the West, we tend to eat lots of refined food like white bread, white rice and pasta – all of which have been processed in a certain way taking out some of the fibre that naturally occurs in them. After this refinement process, these particular foods don’t contain as much ‘roughage’ (rough, fibrous material we can’t digest but the gut needs to help regulate digestion) and therefore they pass through our guts more slowly. Foods high in fibre, like nuts, grains and some fruits and vegetables, have a ‘sweeping brush’ effect as they pass through our bodies – clearing us out and keeping our guts nice and healthy.

Why not try incorporating a few high-fibre meals into your weekly teatime favourites? Veg curry with brown rice, baked potato with tuna and sweetcorn or salmon stir-fry with broccoli and peas are all tasty meals that could help reduce your risk of cancer. For more ideas click here.

Cutting down on red and processed meats

As part of a healthy diet, red meat can provide a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. However, eating a lot of red and processed meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer5. Red meats include beef, lamb and pork but processed meats can be a bit trickier to identify. 

When meat is changed in order to make it taste better or extend its shelf life it becomes ‘processed’. So things like bacon, sausages, salami, chorizo, ham, corned beef, canned meat, beef jerky and pork scratchings all count. You could try replacing one of your red meat portions with fish or lean chicken breast, or maybe start experimenting with veggie burgers. If chilli con carne is your thing, try using turkey mince instead of beef or ditch the meat all together and add an extra can of cannellini beans. Small food swaps like these are easy to get used to and will help you reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

Ditching the sunbeds

It can be tempting to look for your tanning fix from sunbeds during the depths of winter. But did you know that sunbeds are classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation6? This means there is enough evidence to say that sunbeds definitely cause cancer, specifically skin cancer. Ever heard someone in the tanning salon talking about ‘topping up’ their vitamin D levels? It’s important to be aware that it’s much safer to get your vitamin D fix from your diet through foods like oily fish, eggs or fortified breakfast cereals6. Give up sunbeds for good to protect yourself from the harmful levels of cancer-causing UV rays they emit – and if you feel like you need a summery glow, reach for the fake tan!

Now you know our top tips for living a healthier lifestyle in 2019. Forget the fads and the trends. The power to lower your risk of cancer and live a healthier lifestyle really is in your hands. Why not start making  some of the changes we’ve suggested and make this year count? For more detailed information on lowering cancer risk, click here.



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