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Staying in Shape Slashes Cancer Risk

Staying in Shape Slashes Cancer Risk

Among the many good reasons to maintain a healthy body weight, we can add another: a decreased risk of cancer. While quitting smoking is unarguably the single best thing you can do to reduce your likelihood of the disease, it turns out that staying in shape is a close second. Coming a week after the revelation that we should eat 10 portions of fruit and veg a day to enjoy longer lives, it would seem that the latest research represents yet another clarion call to get active and eat healthy.

What the Study Says

Like the aforementioned research into fruit and veg, this latest study was conducted by Imperial College London and published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal. In it, researchers closely examined the associations between adiposity and cancer, looking specifically at meta-analyses of 204 cohort studies. Despite obesity rates continuing to climb in the UK and worldwide, a consistent link was established between weight and cancer.

The study, which was funded by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), found that gaining less than a stone in weight increased one’s risk of cancer by over 50%. The astonishing findings linked a total of 11 different cancers with adiposity. These included oesophageal, stomach, gallbladder, liver and bowel cancer. BMI was the most common adiposity measurement, although other indices included waist circumference, hip circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

As mentioned, smoking is the primary risk factor that most of us associate with cancer. We are told, time and again, that smoking drastically increases our chances of being diagnosed – and it certainly does. But according to Public Health England, less than half of us realise that obesity is a risk factor in its own right. Many of us are much more likely to associate obesity with cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and atherosclerosis. As such, it’s vital that the news filters into public consciousness and provokes a sea change in attitude and application.

Cancer Prevention: It’s Time to Get Serious

As we know, there are multiple cancer risk factors, but some simply aren’t modifiable – at least on a personal level. The toxic load in the atmosphere, for instance, is not something we can simply obviate by altering our own individual behaviour, though we can of course minimise our contributions by recycling, limiting our intake of red meat, switching to an electric car etc.

What the evidence linking adiposity and cancer should tell us, however, is that it’s time to get serious about our health and work to maintain a sensible body weight. And before you gesture dismissively and insist that you are not overweight, it’s worth remembering that one doesn’t have to be obese to be at risk: the study shows that anyone with high adiposity (excess fat) is in the danger zone, even if they don’t necessarily fall into the obese bracket. What’s more, emerging evidence suggests that surplus body fat in early life has an adverse effect on cancer risk when you hit adulthood.

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that approximately 25,000 annual cancer cases could be prevented in the UK if all of us maintained a healthy weight. In addition to the aforementioned cancers, excess weight is linked to womb, ovary, kidney, rectum, pancreas and breast cancer.

Whether you are a healthy weight (with a BMI of 24), overweight (BMI of 29) or obese (BMI of 34), the positive associations between weight and cancer lead to one unavoidable conclusion: we must all make efforts to eat well and pursue an active lifestyle.

Embracing a Positive Change

At the government level, it’s refreshing to see than some positive changes will better enable us to lead healthier lives. I’m referring, of course, to next year’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy. The so-called Sugar Tax will penalise soft drinks companies for marketing products containing high levels of sugar, and already the legislation has led to major companies cutting the sugar content of their best-loved brands – Coca-Cola, Ribena and Lucozade among them.

Undeniably, these soft drink behemoths have responded due to a fiscal imperative and not because they wish we were all healthier! But nonetheless, we should be glad that high-sugar drinks are becoming less accessible – even if most soft drinks now contain sweeteners instead of sugar.

There is no reason why we cannot implement a similar sweeping change in our own lives. Preventing excess weight gain (or tackling existing adipose tissue) is a matter of getting into the right habits. Eating well and exercising is important, but you should also make an effort to hydrate regularly. Keeping your stress levels in check will also be beneficial.

The Alkaline Diet and Weight Loss

In our view, following an alkaline diet is a wise move if you’re determined to reach a healthy weight and enjoy enhanced levels of energy and immunity. This diet favours unprocessed, weight-normalising foods such as fibre-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and healthy fats. While it is low in meat, gluten and dairy, lean meats are permitted. In essence, adherents of the alkaline diet follow an 80:20 or 70:30 rule, with the bulk of their foods being alkaline-forming and a small amount being acid-forming. They also drink alkaline water, bottles of which are now increasingly lining the shelves of health stores.

Ultimately, losing excess weight or maintaining a healthy BMI will help reduce your risk not only of various cancers, but other chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In simple terms, focus on health, wellness and being the best you can be.