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Little-Known Habits That Decrease Your Deadly Cancer Risk

Small things that make a big difference.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease, but certain lifestyle habits can make a difference. "Making any change is difficult. But setting small, achievable goals makes big goals much easier to accomplish," says cancer dietitian Joseph Dowdell, RDN, LD. Here are five habits scientifically proven to decrease cancer risk. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



fit middle-aged man walking on the beach on a sunny day
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Numerous studies have shown that walking—even just a little bit every day—can decrease the risk of cancer. "Going for a walk at an average to brisk pace can provide people with a tremendous health benefit. It's free, easy, and can be done anywhere," says Alpa Patel, PhD, Strategic Director, CPS-3, American Cancer Society.


Getting the Right Amount Of Sleep

woman sleeping peacefully in bed with her dog

Sleeping less than six hours a night is associated with an increased risk of cancer, researchers say. "Studies have shown short-sleep duration—that's another way of saying not sleeping enough—is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer," says Michael J. Breus, PhD. "Insufficient sleep has also been identified as a factor in elevating risk for colorectal adenomas—these are polyps found in the colon, which can sometimes develop into cancer. And multiple studies –including this long-term, large-scale study published recently–show that short sleep may increase breast cancer risk, one of the most-studied forms of cancer."


Being Mindful With Alcohol

alcoholic drinks group of people

Cutting down on alcohol—or eliminating it completely—can lower the risk of developing cancer. "This is another great example of how changing behavior could significantly decrease cancer deaths," says Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society. "The most striking findings is the impact on cancer deaths with changes in alcohol consumption. Individuals should be strongly counseled that they can dramatically decrease their cancer risk if alcohol consumption is moderated."


Eating More Veggies

raw vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants and other compounds shown to have protective benefits against cancer, research shows. "Although prior studies have suggested an association, they have been limited in power, particularly for specific fruits and vegetables and aggressive subtypes of breast cancer," says Maryam Farvid, PhD. "This research provides the most complete picture of the importance of consuming high amounts of fruit and vegetables for breast cancer prevention."


Managing Stress

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While the jury is still out over whether stress causes cancer directly, stress can have a significant impact on health and healing. "Stress has a profound impact on how your body's systems function," says Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, professor of General Oncology and Behavioral Science, and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson. "Stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer."


Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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