Q: I'm getting up in age and haven't done well with exercise and a healthful diet. My husband keeps urging me to change my ways, but I tell him, "It's too late now." Isn't that true?
A: If you think it's too late to adopt healthy habits to lower your risk of cancer, you're in for a surprise. A new study concludes that following the diet and lifestyle guidelines of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), even well after middle age, can make a significant difference.
In an independent study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center wanted to see whether following AICR guidelines affected cancer risk. For 13 years, they tracked the diet, lifestyle and disease rates for 29,564 women who were 55 to 69 years old at the start of the study.
The researchers looked at whether the women avoided tobacco, gained no more than 11 pounds after age 18, exercised daily, ate at least five servings of vegetables and fruits daily, got enough complex carbohydrates like whole grains, and limited alcohol, red meat, fat and salt.
The study found that women who followed only one or none of the AICR diet and lifestyle recommendations had a 35 percent higher risk of developing cancer than women who followed most of the recommendations. With regard to mortality, women who met only one or none of the AICR recommendations had a 43 percent higher risk of dying from cancer.
The results suggest that following a series of guidelines involving physical activity, weight management, and diet had a greater effect than concentrating on any one guideline.
The median number of recommendations met by the women was four. None of the women adhered to all nine recommendations. The highest compliance was for limiting alcohol and the lowest compliance was for eating vegetables and fruits.
The recommendations that the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center researchers tested come from the AICR report called "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective." The recommendations of the AICR report can be summarized in some simple action steps:
- Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
- Select foods low in fat and salt.
- Prepare and store food safely.
- Do not use tobacco in any form.
For more information on these guidelines, order AICR's free brochure, "Simple Steps to Prevent Cancer," by calling toll-free 800-843-8114, ext. 111.
-- Information for this article came from the American Institute for Cancer Research