Seven healthy behaviors can go a long way toward improving your health and lowering your risk of many cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. And they’re not as complicated as you might think.
So take control of your health, and encourage your family to do the same. Choose one or two of the behaviors below to start with. Once you’ve got those down, move on to the others.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping your weight in check is often easier said than done, but a few simple tips can help. First off, if you’re overweight, focus initially on not gaining any more weight. This by itself can improve your health. Then, when you’re ready, try to take off some extra pounds for an even greater health boost.
- Integrate physical activity and movement into your life.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Choose smaller portions and eat more slowly.
2. Exercise Regularly
Few things are as good for you as regular physical activity. While it can be hard to find the time, it’s important to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day. More is even better, but any amount is better than none.
- Choose activities you enjoy. Many things count as exercise, including walking, gardening and dancing.
- Make exercise a habit by setting aside the same time for it each day. Try going to the gym at lunchtime or taking a walk regularly after dinner.
- Stay motivated by exercising with someone.
3. Don’t Smoke
You’ve heard it before: If you smoke, quitting is absolutely the best thing you can do for your health. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also far from impossible. More than 1,000 Americans stop for good every day.
- Keep trying! It often takes six or seven tries before you quit for good.
- Talk to a health-care provider for help.
- Join a quit-smoking program. Your workplace or health plan may offer one.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Despite confusing news reports, the basics of healthy eating are actually quite straightforward. You should focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and keep red meat to a minimum. It’s also important to cut back on bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and choose healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) more often. Taking a multivitamin with folate every day is a great nutrition insurance policy.
- Make fruits and vegetables a part of every meal. Put fruit on your cereal. Eat vegetables as a snack.
- Choose chicken, fish or beans instead of red meat.
- Choose whole-grain cereal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread over their more refined counterparts.
- Choose dishes made with olive or canola oil, which are high in healthy fats.
- Cut back on fast food and store-bought snacks (like cookies), which are high in bad fats.
- Buy a 100 percent RDA multivitamin that contains folate.
5. Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation, If at All
Moderate drinking is good for the heart, as many people already know, but it can also increase the risk of cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t feel that you need to start. If you already drink moderately (less than one drink a day for women, less than two drinks a day for men), there’s probably no reason to stop. People who drink more, though, should cut back.
- Choose nonalcoholic beverages at meals and parties.
- Avoid occasions centered around alcohol.
- Talk to a health-care professional if you feel you have a problem with alcohol.
6. Protect Yourself from the Sun
While the warm sun is certainly inviting, too much exposure to it can lead to skin cancer, including serious melanoma. Skin damage starts early in childhood, so it’s especially important to protect children.
- Steer clear of direct sunlight between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. (peak burning hours). It’s the best way to protect yourself.
- Wear hats, long-sleeve shirts and sunscreens with SPF20 or higher.
- Don’t use sun lamps or tanning booths. Try self-tanning creams instead.
7. Get Screening Tests
There are a number of important screening tests that can help protect against cancer. Some of these tests find cancer early when they are most treatable, while others can actually help keep cancer from developing in the first place. For colorectal cancer alone, regular screening could save over 30,000 lives each year. That’s three times the number of people killed by drunk drivers in the United States in all of 2011. Talk to a health care professional about which tests you should have and when.
Cancers that should be tested for regularly:
- Colon and rectal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Lung cancer (in current or past heavy smokers).