It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to assessing your cancer risk—nearly everything you eat, drink, and do seems to be linked to one disease or another. But there's good news: A new study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that half of all cancer deaths and nearly half of all diagnoses could be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.
The study examined over 135 thousand men and women from two long-term studies and determined that healthy lifestyle behaviors could have a large effect on preventing certain cancers—specifically lung, colon, pancreatic, and kidney cancer. And by "healthy behaviors" they mean not smoking, drinking no more than one drink a day for women (or two for men), maintaining a body mass index between 18.5 and 27.5, and doing at least 75 high-intensity minutes or 150 moderate-intensity minutes of exercise per week.
The new research goes against a 2015 report that suggested most cancers were the result of random gene mutations (making cancer seem unpreventable), which understandably freaked everyone out. But this new Harvard study would argue otherwise, along with a 2014 UK study that found nearly 600,000 cancer cases that could have been avoided over the course of five years if people had healthier lifestyles, according to Cancer Research UK. (Find out Why the Diseases That Are the Biggest Killers Get the Least Attention.)
"There's now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors,” said Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary University of London, whose study led to these UK stats. (Check out Why Cancer Isn't a "War.")
Ditching cigarettes is the most obvious, but cutting back on booze, protecting skin in the sun, and exercising more can help can all help you avoid becoming one of these statistics. As for cleaning up your diet, cancer prevention follows pretty much the same rules you already know for a healthy diet: cut back on red, processed, and fried meats while upping your intake of fruits and vegetables, recommends the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). And, of course, get moving. Clock in those 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week with some fast and efficient HIIT training.
Why risk succumbing to the second leading cause of death in America when all you have to do is practice healthier habits? Not only will you decrease your risk, but we bet you'll look and feel better too.