The new year is the perfect time to commit to a healthier lifestyle. New Year’s resolutions can give you focus and clarity to feel better, look better and even reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Laurie Herscher, MD, radiation oncologist and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center, shares nine New Year’s resolutions to help you make healthy choices in your daily life and lower your cancer risk.

Quit smoking.

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoke also increases the risk of other cancers, including mouth, throat, stomach, colon, cervical and bladder cancers, among others.

Limit alcohol intake.

“Heavy alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of breast, liver and colorectal cancers,” explains Dr. Herscher. “Alcohol has also been linked with an increased risk of esophageal cancer – as much as a smoker’s.”

Limit your alcohol take to the occasional glass of wine or bottle of beer – or cut it from your diet completely this year.

Maintain a healthy weight.

An American Cancer Society study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, found that 14 percent of cancer deaths in men. and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women were attributed to excess weight or obesity.

“The new year is a good time to refocus on maintaining a healthy weight,” says Dr. Herscher. “Make a specific goal and tell a friend or family member about your plans. They can help keep you motivated and accountable.”

Follow the Mediterranean Diet

A Mediterranean diet has been linked to a longer life expectancy and a lower risk for several types of cancers, including breast and colorectal. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and other plant-based foods and uses healthy fats instead of butter.

Key guidelines of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Eat plant-based foods
  • Limit red meat to twice a month, or less
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Use olive oil and canola oil instead of butter
  • Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt
Exercise regularly.

“Walking 30-45 minutes each day, five or six days a week is probably the single best thing one can do to maintain good health and function,” Dr. Herscher says. “Regular physical activity can improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress and lower your risk of developing cancer.”

Dr. Herscher also encourages individuals to add weight training to help develop muscle mass.

Avoid environmental pollution.

“Today, we know much more about how different types of pollution – from indoor air pollution, food pollution and chemical residues on food – can contribute to cancer risk,” says Dr. Herscher. “Lower your risk by eating organic as much as possible and using ‘green’ cleaning, beauty and personal care products.”

Check for radon exposure in the home.

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas that is released from rocks and soil and is present in almost every home. Increased radon levels have been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. A radon test can measure the radon levels in your home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends steps should be taken to lower levels if it measures four picocuries per liter or higher.

Get enough sleep.

“Sleep is an important time for our bodies to rest and recharge,” Dr. Herscher explains. “A lack of good quality sleep can cause our immune systems to weaken and increase inflammation –which, if chronic, can lead to an increase risk in cancer.”

Adults should get 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Try to get into a healthy bedtime routine to help your body wind down and relax in the evening.

Avoid eating after dinner.

“Fasting between dinner and breakfast can help better regulate blood glucose levels, which may indirectly help lower breast cancer risks in some women, particularly those with type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr. Herscher.

A 2013 study found that women who went at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast without eating better controlled their blood glucose levels. Skip the late-night snacking and instead drink water if feeling hungry.

Make small changes.

“The best way to guarantee success is to start small,” Dr. Herscher says. “Focus on one new resolution at a time, instead of making several big changes all at once.”

Pick one resolution and incorporate it into your lifestyle. Once it’s become routine to eat a plant-based diet or go for a daily walk, add another resolution to the mix. These little changes will add up over the year for a healthier, happier you.

For information about upcoming integrative medicine classes, call 240-826-2010. To schedule a clinical consultation for integrative medicine, call 301-795-0078.

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