Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D. and Alison Jefferies, MEd
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the world.
In the United States one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Yet there is irrefutable evidence that the majority of cancer and the suffering that follows can be prevented through appropriate lifestyle choices. These same lifestyle factors influence outcomes for those with cancer.
As most of our New Year's resolutions are now a distant memory, it is time to revisit our original goals as we move toward Memorial Day and into the summer months that are full of excuses to stray from AntiCancer Living.
AntiCancer Living consists of six lifestyle pillars of health that are linked with cancer risk and/or influence outcomes for those with cancer:
2) Physical activity
3) Stress management
5) Love and support
6) Environmental toxins
(Note: Tobacco use accounts for at least 30 percent of cancer, but hopefully the world knows this already.)
Each of these factors influences critical biological systems like gene expression and other key regulators of the cancer process. Although scientific evidence supports the role of each of the six areas for health and wellbeing, past research has rarely studied them together. Most people focus only on one or two of these areas at a time. However, emerging evidence reveals the best approach is to have the ideal mix of six, as each area influences the other (e.g., sleep deprivation is linked to unhealthy dietary choices and obesity; stress can cause sleep loss and sabotages all healthy choices, etc.). The proper mix of six can work synergistically and foster success in each area leading to true cancer prevention and control.
To reinvigorate yourself as we move into summer, look at your own mix of six. First, set yourself up for success by engaging in some preparation. Two essential components for successful behavior change include:
1. Having a strong support system. Build your team -- who will support your changes and even join in the fun? Consider your partner, friends, colleagues, online connections, etc.
2. Be mindful about every choice you make while you engage in daily life.
The following are the basic tenets, along with three simple tips, for AntiCancer Living. This prescription is for those wishing to improve their health, decrease cancer risk, or improve health outcomes for those with cancer. Lifestyle changes are a key factor for true cancer prevention and control. Don't forget the pebble in the pond. One small step has a ripple effect and will improve your mix of six.
Sleep: Try to get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to improve your health, coping, mood, weight control, cognitive function, and more. Children and teenagers need more than 8 hours of sleep a night. More details are available at the National Sleep Foundation.
1. Establish a bedtime for yourself and your children and stick to it. Keep weekday and weekend bedtimes similar to ensure you get the required amount of sleep each night.
2. Reduce ambient light in the bedroom.
3. Eliminate screen time before bed (TV, smartphone, backlit tablet, etc.) and carefully monitor and reduce stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
Diet: Eat a primarily whole-foods, variety-filled, plant-based diet. Limit foods you know are not nutritious powerhouses (sweets and salty snacks) and maintain a balanced glycemic load. Research confirms this approach will improve health and decrease risk of most non-communicable diseases while improving outcomes for those with cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
1. Cook in the morning when you are getting ready for work (put the beans and brown rice on while you shower) and cook for more than one meal at a time.
2. Fill half of your plate with vegetables. Decide on the vegetables first when planning a meal. Keeping the daily requirement of 5-7 servings of vegetables in mind, you will likely need to eat vegetables at breakfast. Remember spices and herbs, which are filled with healthy phytochemicals, can contribute to flavor and enjoyment of foods. Try replacing meat with beans four times a week for adequate protein.
3. Look for sugar in EVERY product you buy -- snacks, cereals, tomato sauces, and other processed foods are loaded with sugar. Whenever possible, refrain from buying and eating processed foods.
Physical Activity: Exercise regularly -- at least 30 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week, and children need at least 1 hour a day. It is critical to also limit sedentary behavior, as the harms of sedentary behavior and lack of exercise are similar to the health risks of smoking or obesity.
1. Wear a pedometer and make sure you take a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. Make an effort to sit less and stand more. Children need 15,000-20,000 steps a day.
2. Incorporate physical activity when you can throughout your day. For example, always take the stairs, walk on escalators or moving walkways, park in the farthest spot in the parking lot from your destination, conduct walking meetings, and stand at your desk (buy or make a standing desk) or when watching TV, etc.
3. Incorporate exercise throughout the day. Even 10-minute bouts every two hours count toward daily exercise.
Stress Management: Engage in a stress management activity like meditation or yoga a daily basis -- in the morning, before bed, or when you need a "breather" in the middle of a busy day. This aspect of the prescription is critical, as chronic stress has not only been found to sabotage all good healthy intentions, but can negatively affect most biological processes and literally speeds the aging process.
1. Make an appointment on your calendar with yourself to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. You can also do a movement-based mind-body practice daily like yoga or tai chi.
2. Be mindful in the moment. When stress mounts: stop, ground, and center before acting (stop what you are doing and take a few deep breaths to help clear your mind; literally ground yourself with both feet on the ground, scan your body and relax; center yourself by acknowledging the trigger, envision the ideal outcome, and act on it from a place of calm).
3. Participate in a six-week challenge of something new with a friend. If you are not engaging in a regular mind-body practice then find a friend and commit to exploring a new practice for 6 weeks.
Love and support: Seek to foster, surround yourself with, and deliver love and support. Giving and receiving support provides broad benefits, and can specifically affect how our cells function and express the genes that control our health.
1. Engage your friends to help you start AntiCancer Living. It is hard to make all these lifestyle changes alone. Exercise with a friend, share recipes, etc.
2. Look for opportunities to share experiences with those you love vs. giving rewards like food and material items.
3. Affirm yourself for who you are and all you do. Then reach out and affirm another person with a specific observation of their strengths or provide them with some needed support.
Environment toxins: Limit your exposure to environmental toxins, especially endocrine (hormone) disruptors such as bisphenol A (BPA) and parabens. Hormone disruptors have been implicated in obesity, risk of cancer, and other illnesses. Other chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis have also been classified as carcinogens (Styrofoam, formaldehyde, and tricolsan to name a few).
1. Use glass containers for storage and stainless steel water bottles in order to reduce exposure to plastics that contain BPA or other plastic-based endocrine disruptors.
2. In personal-care products read the ingredients list and avoid parabens, other -"bens," phthalates, tricolsan, and products with the term fragrance. All of these products are endocrine disruptors and/or carcinogenic.
3. Visit the Environmental Working Group for detailed information on foods that you should preferably buy organic to decrease pesticide exposure and guidance on products and other strategies on decreasing exposure to environmental toxins.
Now that you know all six pillars of AntiCancer Living, consider the best mix of six and encourage others to join you. Although you may have strayed off the path, it is still right there beside you. Know it is not a straight line, but a winding road paved for your unique journey. Re-engage today and start AntiCancer Living.