10 Ways to Improve Your Health and to Minimize Your Risk for (Breast) Cancer
Throughout the past decade, I’ve tracked the latest research on behalf of DCIS MyStory and Breast Cancer MyStory. This post summarizes health risk factors into “The Ten.” These are personal choices – actions – to stay/get healthy and to minimize your risk for disease, especially breast cancer. Though there are other factors, like your family history you cannot change, there are ten lifestyle choices you CAN control. Invest in your future by reading this post, then making the changes you need to live your best life. The Ten is an inventory for living a healthy lifestyle, period – not just regarding breast cancer. Skim it or read in detail and follow the links to be on your way to making more good choices in your life.
Note: Below is the summary if you just want to scan the list and do a personal inventory. If you want more information and research to back the recommendations, read the entire blog. Yes, grab a cup of coffee, scratch paper and pencil and keep score of where you need to get to work. You have only one life and your body is keeping score.
1.Make healthy food choices.
2.Obtain and maintain ideal body weight.
4.Avoid all tobacco products.
6.See your physician regularly and follow recommended screenings.
7.Perform monthly self-exams.
8.Manage your stress levels.
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; avoid working nights.
10.Reduce environmental risks. (Pollution, lead, radon…)
Here are my reflections on The Ten with research and resource links as the base of my thoughts.
1.Make healthy food choices. What we put in our mouth fuels our body each hour of each day. Good stuff in, healthy body out. Junk in, problems out. Processed food, meats, snack foods, sugar, soda, artificial sweeteners, fast food and convenient foods we’ve introduced into our diet the past few decades catering to our lives of convenience are to blame. Our growing desire for easy and fast food preparation becomes the culprits of chaos when it comes to our food sources being the “good fuel” to stoke the human fire. Check out this article that backs me up on the benefits of eating healthy: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322268.php and this one too: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322550.php
The best cancer fighting foods can be found here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324193.php
2.Obtain and maintain ideal body weight. When we carry extra weight, we are just asking for problems. Whether wearing out our joints prematurely, eating ourselves into diabetes or fueling cancer cells, your body weight matters. Use a BMI or body mass index to guide you – your height and weight factor into a number (preferably in the range of 18.5-24.9) that is the indicator you’ve got the right weight on your type of body frame. Officially, body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. Here’s the translation:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
If you want to calculate yours, here’s a link: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm
Mine has consistently been in the 24’s since I became a mom three decades ago. Yes, I run on the high side of healthy and it is my goal to keep it under the magic 25 advised to be in good health. And I like to eat, so it is a constant struggle. Here’s an article from the Washington Post that links risk of dying from breast cancer with a lower-fat diet: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/05/15/lower-fat-diet-reduces-risk-dying-breast-cancer-study-says/?utm_term=.f92d4b3d7638
Another article from CNN Body fat levels linked to breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/06/health/breast-cancer-body-fat-study/index.html
My conclusion? Work with your health care professionals to attain and maintain a BMI under 25. Yes, you CAN do it and it all starts in the grocery store with your choices there and learning how to decode and order food when you eat or order out.
3.Exercise regularly. Since the first two on the list have to do with food and weight, here is a way to keep your weight down and your physical strength, muscle mass, bone density and fitness up. You don’t have to be an athlete, but you do need to develop a regular routine to follow that works for you, your body, abilities and lifestyle. Always seek a doctor’s advice before starting any new program and join a class or get a workout buddy for motivation. As I’ve been a life-long athlete, exercising is not a problem for me, but rather when I have physical limitations and can’t workout, then the pounds (and my bad attitude) surface. Recent research reveals exercise increases well-being by improving gut health https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324193.php and more research from the Current Sports Medicine Reports here: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/FullText/2017/07000/Exercise_in_the_Prevention_and_Treatment_of_Breast.15.aspx. The bottom line is get moving and stay moving.
4.Avoid all tobacco products. I think we all know this is not healthy and creates multiple problems from health to finances. Don’t start and if you have, seek help to stop. Too much research on this to pick just one, however take it from the Surgeon General and stay away from tobacco altogether. Research published in Breast Cancer Research from the Generations Study cohort concludes: “Smoking was associated with a modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among women who started smoking at adolescent or peri-menarcheal ages. The relative risk of breast cancer associated with smoking was greater for women with a family history of the disease.” More from that research found here: https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-017-0908-4
5.Avoid alcohol. Yes, you may talk yourself out of this one, but enough research has shown that alcohol not only packs on the pounds, but may also fuel disease. The solution? Don’t start drinking or quit if you have. I quit on 12-31-18 and haven’t looked back. Here is my blog about quitting alcohol if you need reasons why or some inspiration: https://breastcancermystory.org/resolute/. Do you need research to back this up? Though the final verdict may still be out, we do know that alcohol causes inflammation and contains high levels of sugar, both which should be avoided or limited for good health. Here is more information from the research front: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324442.php I guess I just like to crunch my calories now more than drink them…
6.See your physician regularly and follow recommended screenings. This will vary depending on your gender and age. It starts with visiting your physician annually and following through on recommended tests and screenings. If you don’t, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Here is a background doc from the American Cancer Society that may be helpful: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-screening-pdq As new screening technologies come on the market, they will help us diagnose and treat diseases earlier and more effectively.
7.Perform monthly self-exams. An extension of visiting your physician, it is up to you to monitor your body and report to your physician any changes you notice. Don’t rely on the Internet docs to diagnose yourself. Visit the real MD’s who know you and your body. This seems logical, but it seems we are either embarrassed or afraid (or both) to share changes in our bodies that are uncomfortable (for us) to verbalize. Remember, your doctor has heard it all and can only help you if they know what’s going on with your body. Here is information on breast self-exam and awareness from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237
8.Manage your stress levels. This one is easier said than done. Sometimes we think we are managing stress – work, illness, death of a loved one, financial pressures, but they just manifest themselves in other ways – binge eating, deprivation, isolation, self harm, depression, twitches, declining health. Your body takes its cues from our mind and if you are on overload and not dealing with “it” in a healthy way (think yoga, physical exercise, meditation, talking to a professional or a friend, etc.) it will manifest itself in ways harder to deal with down the road. Think of stress as a dandelion in your lawn. It sprouts up and calls attention to itself as a nuisance. Once it appears you can either ignore it by mowing it down each week, spray it or dig it up. But if you dig it up, you MUST get all the roots, or the weed will pop up again and again. The same goes with stress. Here is research about stress using mouse models that shows that stress hormones can help breast cancer grow, spread and diversify, making it harder to treat: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324720.php
and another about chronic stress: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324540.php. Bottom line is make taking care of yourself a priority.
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; avoid working nights. You can convince others you only need 6 hours of sleep, but your body needs time to relax and recharge daily. Don’t shortchange yourself, your family, your coworkers or friends by picking up the slack by cutting down on your sleep. Here’s more to convince you to head to bed earlier and rise earlier: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323571.php
as well as research on the link between breast cancer and working night shifts and higher rate of cancer: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320554.php. It’s not just beauty rest folks.
10.Reduce environmental risks. (Pollution, lead, radon…) The environments we live, work, eat and play in can and do affect our body. Pay attention to your surroundings and minimize exposure to things like lead (think paint in an older home and water in older pipes), toxins from yard chemicals, air pollution, radon (especially important in older homes with basements) and even the non-organic food we purchase at the grocery store. It seems a pain to wash our melons and fruits, however the more our farmers have to battle Mother Nature, the more our food needs to be questioned and prepared properly. Here is a background document from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf.
Post Script: Smile, laugh, enjoy life and do the best you can to control what you can. This blog was not meant to make you paranoid, but rather to share knowledge so you can be more aware. Remember, you are the author of your life and are writing your next chapter now. I am hopeful it is a very long novel and you have the needed information to make the best choices you can in the pages ahead.