THE BLOG

Simplicity Works in Cancer Prevention -- For You and Your Kids

05/22/2015 10:34 am ET | Updated May 22, 2016

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to making healthy choices in your life. Every day, it seems, new studies come out that tout increasingly complicated regimens to follow: eat these three things, avoid these five things, get these tests and do these activities -- but only in this specific way.

Then, tomorrow, newer new studies come out, and the recommendations change.

It's confusing, and it's really frustrating. And it seems to be an issue particularly pronounced with a supercharged disease like cancer.

The good news, though, is that hidden in the crush of research studies are very simple steps that we know help lower the risk of cancer. In fact, half of all cancers could be prevented just by doing things like: eating a healthy diet, exercising, keeping weight in check, not smoking. And this percentage is even higher when healthy behaviors take hold in youth and young adulthood.

Try these simple tips and tricks to lower your risk, and the adult risk of your kids and grandkids:

For you:
Take a walk
It doesn't get much simpler than this, and it works: to lower cancer risk, to lower heart disease risk, and to help you live a longer, healthier life. Try to get 30 - 60 minutes of brisk (not slow) walking over the course of every day. Want to test yourself? Get a pedometer and build up to 10,000 steps or more a day.

Step on your scale -- every day
Yes. Every day. You shouldn't obsess about your weight, but keeping close track of it can help you make little adjustments to how much you eat and how active you are. Weight gain often creeps up on people. Five pounds over the holidays. A pound or two over the summer. Stepping on that scale regularly can keep surprises at bay and keep you on track with your weight goals.

Eat more plants.
Cutting back on red meat and choosing more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grains is an easy way to lower the risk of cancer and other diseases. It's just that simple.

Eat slowly
We're a society that moves at the quick pace of technology, and this often transfers to how we eat as well. But eating meals too quickly can work against our health. We can eat so quickly that we don't even realize that we're full until we've eaten too much. Slowing down can help us appreciate our food more and also be more in touch with our hunger cues, so we know when we've had just enough.

Take a stand
It's said that sitting is the new smoking. And while this may be an exaggeration, sitting has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer -- even in those who exercise regularly. So, it's important to try to avoid long hours of uninterrupted sitting. Take hourly standing breaks at home, school, or work. Most of the things you do sitting, you can also do standing -- watching TV, working at the computer, even reading.

Visit or click-it if you're trying to quit smoking.
It's natural to want to tough it out alone when you're trying to quit smoking. But there's no reason to. Getting help from health care providers can double, or even triple, your chances of quitting for good. So see a doctor or visit smokefree.gov.

Make a date -- for screening
Cancer screening tests aren't fun, but on the plus side, they're pretty easy to get and, at most, happen once a year. Talk to your health care provider about screening tests for colon cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, and if you've been a heavy smoker, lung cancer.

For your kids and grandkids:
A shot in the arm -- against HPV
Vaccinating boys and girls against HPV (human papillomavirus) can cut the risk of many types of cancers, including cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, and cancers of the tongue, throat and tonsils.

Let little legs run
Kids love to be active. So be sure to given them the opportunity -- or nudge -- they need to get out and play every single day.

Offer healthy food as much as possible
Eating a lot of plant-based foods in youth seems to have cancer prevention benefits later in life. So, even if your kids turn their noses up at your offerings, keep it up. You're laying a foundation for lifelong healthy eating.

Watch their weight
Healthy growth has a positive impact on cancer risk and lifelong health, so it's important to know where your kids generally fall on weight charts for their age. If they're overweight, you can help them to be more active and make healthier food choices.

Talk about alcohol
Among the many other dangers of teenage and young adult drinking is an increased risk of cancer in later adulthood, especially for women. It can be difficult task, but guiding your kids toward making healthy alcohol choices can have lifelong benefits.

And talk about smoking
Fully 90 percent of smokers tried their first cigarette by the time they were age 18. So, it's important help shape kids' knowledge and attitudes about tobacco early in life.

Be a good role model
One of the best things you can do for the young people in your life is be a good role model for them. If you make healthy choices, they're likely to as well. It may seem at times that you're not having an impact, but you are. Keep it up.

For more tips and tricks and general information about what works in cancer prevention, see the 8IGHT WAYS to Prevent Cancer series from the Siteman Cancer Center.