When it comes to cancer prevention, genetics are only part of your body’s story. How you live and what you eat can also promote overall health and keep your colon happy.

Dr. Eric Secor, associate medical director of integrative medicine with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, echoes the American Institute for Cancer Research in recommending a variety of healthy lifestyle habits that can improve overall health and prevent cancer.

“It takes a conscious effort to make sure you’re eating the right things and staying physically active, but your health is worth it,” he says.

He recommends:

  • Trim your fat. Keep your body mass index (BMI) within the normal range (between 20 and 24.9) as outlined by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Stay active. Physical activity should be a daily commitment. Consider following F.I.T.T., which stands for “Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type” of exercise.
  • Choose wisely. Avoid sugary drinks and limit the consumption of energy-dense foods, which includes baked goods, candy, chips, ice cream, fast food and packaged and processed foods that are high in sugars and fats.
  • Eat more plant foods containing both soluble and insoluble fiber.
  • Cut down on animal foods, especially red meat and processed meat.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks to one or two a day.
  • Eat your vitamins. Your diet should supply all or most of your nutritional needs. Test and supplement for any nutritional deficiencies.
    “There’s been a lot of attention given to limiting saturated and trans fats in our diet, for example,” says Dr. Secor. “There’s good reason for that – these are very unhealthy. We should be eating unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats whenever possible. Good diets to follow would be the Mediterranean Diet, which also limits the intake of animal foods and promotes plant foods, or the DASH Diet, which focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.”

When it comes to physical activity, Dr. Secor says research has shown it to reduce the risk of colon cancer, especially four hours or more of moderate to intense activity each week.

“It’s estimated that about 30 percent of colon cancer could be attributed to lifestyle choices such as proper diet and lack of frequent vigorous physical activity,” he explains.

That is because exercise:

  • Increases gut motility, or the movement of food through the digestive system.
  • Aids in reducing anxiety, depression and enhances the immune system.
  • Decreases insulin levels.
  • Decreases obesity.
  • Enhances the body’s ability to use vitamins and minerals to protect itself.

For more information on how lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of cancer, click here.