October 21, 2020
I have good news and bad news when it comes to preventing breast cancer. I’ll start with the bad: there is no magic bullet that is going to absolutely prevent anybody from getting breast cancer. The good news is, there are simple lifestyle changes you can start making right now that will reduce your risk for breast cancer. These also have the benefit of reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease, which is still the number one killer of women in our country.
These four simple ways to live a healthier life can also improve your overall quality of life.
1. Prioritize Sleep
It is a sad fact that our culture does not value sleep, but instead promotes images of people slugging coffee and Red Bull, working nonstop, and staying up all night. That doesn’t make you healthy; it just makes you tired.
If you come to my office and tell me you’re tired, I’m going to ask how much you are sleeping. And if you tell me that you’re consistently sleeping less than seven hours a night, I’m going to stop you right there and advise you to get more rest. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night to be healthy.
How do you make that happen? Start by scheduling it. It’s an important part of your day. If you Google “sleep hygiene” online, you’ll find suggestions that are similar to the tips you probably once followed to get your baby into a sleep routine. Many of those same ideas apply to adults as well.
2. Focus on the Key Relationships in Your Life
This tip is a little more complex than the others, but it is worth the time and effort. It’s really about stress reduction. If I talk to my patients about stress, nine times out of ten the source of their stress is tied to an important relationship in their lives.
Spend time reinvesting in the relationship with your significant other or family members. And if you can incorporate healthy behaviors into time spent with loved ones, like cooking a nutritious meal or taking a walk together, everyone benefits. It’s also important to get out of any relationship that’s been toxic—do it in the name of social distancing.
3. Pay Attention to Nutrition
There is so much information out there about nutrition and the fact is, there is no single way that leads everybody to have a healthy life. You just have to work on some basics. After talking with the excellent nutrition team at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, I’ve come up with several tips to get you started on better nutrition.
- Make water your beverage of choice. Plain water, fizzy water, flavored water—it’s all good. Just stay away from diet drinks, which still feed your sweet tooth, even if they are sugar-free. Water should be your go-to drink and everything else can be a treat.
- Eat your veggies. Aim for filling three-quarters of your plate with whole, plant-based food.
- Watch your portion sizes. Eat from a reasonable-sized plate to keep serving sizes in check. I’ve observed that some of the healthiest, fittest people I know share meals when they go out to eat. By splitting an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert, they get to enjoy a lot of flavors with half the calories.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Ideally for breast cancer prevention you’d have no alcohol at all, but if it is something you want, limit yourself to five drinks a week and not more than one a day. Red wine is part of the Mediterranean diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.
Move your body every day. Humans did not evolve as beings that are meant to sit on the couch all day. Our bodies were built to move. When you move, you feel better and you sleep better. Anything that increases your heart rate counts—walk to the store, walk with a friend, ride a bike, dance in your living room, garden outside, shovel snow. Choose an activity you don’t hate. If your treadmill makes you cringe, find something else and schedule time for it every day.
Try to work up to a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, at least five times a week. Have a backup plan in case your gym is closed or the weather is bad. No excuses—schedule it and get it done.