Nutrition, Exercise Are Key Pieces of Cancer-Prevention Puzzle

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The gentle elation of a runner’s high or the simple satisfaction of a healthy meal are immediate, but their contributions to your health go far deeper than the here-and-now.

Healthy living now can help protect you from cancer years or decades in the future.

The latest evidence for the cancer-preventing power of nutrition and exercise was published in The Lancet Public Health on Feb. 3. This research found increasing rates of six obesity-related cancers in younger adults, those ages 24 to 49, with the risk going up faster in younger generations.

“The study should be a warning to everyone, myself included,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Hazzouri, a medical oncologist at AdventHealth Waterman. “We all want to live longer and healthier, and all these studies point to one direction: The more normal our body-mass index is, the less likely we’ll be to develop all sorts of cancers.”

Previous studies have found colon cancer risk increasing in younger adults, but this study found similar risk in five other cancers, too: endometrial (a cancer of the uterus), gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic and multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells found in bone marrow.

Though the news isn’t good, it has a silver lining: With some exceptions, our weight is under our control. Only a small minority — the National Cancer Institute estimates about 5 to 10 percent — of cancers are caused by defects inherited in our genes.

Most of the rest is up to us.

“This goes to the ancient saying of, ‘You are what you eat,’” Dr. Al-Hazzouri said.

Anti-Cancer Eating

After they’re diagnosed with cancer, many of Dr. Al-Hazzouri’s patients ask him about what sort of food they should eat.

“Unfortunately, once you are diagnosed with cancer, your diet, though important, doesn’t play as big a role as it would have if you’d changed it beforehand,” he said.

Though certain foods — such as non-starchy vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods — have been associated with lower cancer risk, there’s no single “anti-cancer” diet.

“Different people will have different paths to finding a healthy weight,” Dr. Al-Hazzouri said. “There’s no single recipe that works for everyone.”

What matters is finding a nutrition plan that works for you; the destination is more important than finding the “best” path.

“Your cancer risk starts going down with the first pound you lose,” he said.

AdventHealth’s CREATION Life philosophy has long held that nutrition is one key to whole-body health.

Movement Adds Up

The Lancet study focused on weight without taking a closer look at the role of exercise and diet. But previous studies have found that exercise alone — with or without weight loss — can lower the risk of cancer coming back, Dr. Al-Hazzouri said.

The number on your scale isn’t all that matters. If you’re getting moving, even by taking a walk, you’re better off than if you hadn’t.

As Dr. Al-Hazzouri explains, a BMI of 25 (the threshold for being overweight) isn’t a bright red line separating low and high cancer risk. It’s more like a sliding scale.

He likens your health to a student’s grade-point average. You could ace chemistry, get a C in algebra and wind up with a B average.

Similarly, if you get moving without changing your diet, you’ve improved your health. If you do both, all the better.

“If you eat well and exercise and your weight doesn’t change, you’re much healthier than you would’ve been because you’d have gained more weight otherwise,” he said. All of these healthy behaviors are like pieces of your health puzzle, and each is valuable.

In other words, health is a goal to strive toward. By putting its CREATION Life guidelines into practice,AdventHealth Cancer Institute is about more than treating disease. With its emphasis on enlivening the mind and spirit, AdventHealth helps its patients put all the pieces of their health together.

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