As the holiday season comes to a close, people choose to take on a fresh start to the New Year by making resolutions to improve their lives, many of which involve making lifestyle changes to prioritize health and quality of life. This is particularly important now as we are going through physical, mental and other challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, challenges related to the pandemic have led to unhealthy behaviors for some including increased alcohol drinking and sedentary time. Frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing are practices that will be at the forefront as we head into 2021, but we can also prioritize healthy lifestyle choices that will help prevent cancer and other chronic conditions.
Choose better foods and move your body daily.
Current nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society promote a healthy lifestyle pattern, rather than individual factors, for cancer prevention. This lifestyle pattern includes maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle, and eating a healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans, minimizes red and processed meat, fast foods and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars, and avoids sugary drinks. For cancer prevention, alcohol consumption is not recommended, as it has been found to increase risk for many cancers. For breast cancer in particular, risk increases even at moderate drinking levels.
Practice Regular Exercise
Regular exercise has multiple health benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. Current national guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Muscle-strengthening activities should also be included. More is better and some better than nothing. Prolonged sedentary time, such as sitting in front of the TV or computer for long periods, is discouraged. Even during lock-down we can find fun ways to stay active. For example finding online exercise classes you can do from the safety of your own home, or walking or jogging in your neighborhood in a socially distant manner.
Quit harmful habits like smoking.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women Avoiding tobacco products and quitting smoking are major steps that can be taken to lower the risk for developing a host of cancers like lung, mouth, throat, blood, bladder, esophagus, stomach, pancreatic and kidney cancers. This year, make a resolution to kick this habit for good. Resources are available through the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program.
Pledge to get a routine physical and cancer screenings.
Receiving preventive care is one of the most important steps you can take to manage your health. This includes lifesaving cancer screenings, which can detect cancer before it spreads.
Once you’ve decided on your resolutions, take action. Try to make changes that you can incorporate in your daily life and are sustainable so that you can benefit the most and live a healthy life. 2020 was a challenging year, but we all have an opportunity to do our part for a healthier 2021 for us all.
Source: Elisa V. Bandera, MD, PhD, is chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Health Outcomes and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.