Eating right, exercising can help avoid cancer

Contributing ColumnistJuly 13, 2014 

Betty Simms, BaptistHealth

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A substantial proportion of cancer cases in the United States do not have to happen.

An estimated one-third of some of the most common cancers and one-quarter of all cancers are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity and being overweight. Second only to not using tobacco products, maintaining a healthy body weight throughout your life may be the most important lifestyle factor for reducing cancer risk. Evidence shows that excess body fat increases the risk for cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium (lining of the uterus) and kidney.

Excess fat increases cancer risk by promoting the production and circulation of more estrogen and insulin, hormones that stimulate cancer growth. Excess fat may also trigger inflammation throughout the body, which may also encourage cancer growth.

To determine if you are at a healthy weight, check your body mass index (BMI), a score that is based on the relationship between your height and weight. To reduce not only your cancer risk, but the risk of other chronic diseases, most people need to keep their BMI at 25 or below. Your healthcare team can help you to determine your BMI and advise on weight management, if needed.

Eating healthier foods is an important key to improving your health and reducing your cancer risk. Choosing a plant-based diet that includes at least 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, limiting the amount of red meat and avoiding processed meats, choosing whole grain foods and limiting alcohol are all lifestyle choices that can help us to achieve a healthy weight and prevent the onset of disease.

An emerging body of research points to sedentary behavior as a risk factor for cancer, possibly because of its effect on waist size, insulin levels and inflammation. All forms of physical activity prevent cancers indirectly through protection against weight gain. Participating in 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week is recommended for adults.

With the emergence of summer, it is a great time to initiate those lifestyle changes that will help to reduce your cancer risk as well as the risk of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Visit the local farmer's markets to take advantage of summer's bounty by placing more focus on adoption of a plant-based diet, and make the most of the warm summer days by becoming more physically active on a regular basis.

Betty Simms is the outpatient oncology dietitian at Baptist Health Lexington.

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