2017 has arrived, so it’s time to get going and keep going with good, uncomplicated New Year’s resolutions. But facing several helpful lifestyle changes that can produce better health for cancer patients, it might be hard to decide what to work on first. We’ll address that problem by suggesting three major priorities for cancer patients this year. If you use these for your resolutions, you’ll be taking concrete steps to improve your overall health and ability to tolerate and respond to cancer treatment.
Resolution 1: Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Inflammation in your body is a major driver of cancer growth. That’s the primary motivation to reduce excess inflammation. But that’s not all inflammation does. Inflammatory molecules called cytokines also contribute to cancer-induced fatigue, the most widespread side effect plaguing cancer patients. Of course, there are drugs and supplements that fight inflammation, but eating a diet that promotes inflammation at the same time you are trying to reduce it by taking supplements or drugs is like trying to run up a down escalator!
Here are three guidelines from our dietitians on the basic steps for an anti-inflammatory diet:
First, eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods: These include wild-caught salmon and other omega-3 rich foods (such as, flax, , chia seeds, walnuts, and, occasionally, whole omega-3 fortified eggs), olive oil, dark leafy green, vitamin c rich food (brightly colored fruits and veggies), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), tart cherries, berries, tumeric, ginger, garlic, green tea.
Second, avoid pro-inflammatory foods: Many people are familiar with the concept that excessive amounts of certain omega-6 fatty acids, such as those in low-quality vegetable oils, can raise inflammation. But recent research also suggests that saturated fats also increase inflammation through their effects on the immune system. So avoid animal products such as meat and dairy that are high in saturated fat. Finally, refined sugar and refined white flour also fuel inflammation, and don’t belong in your diet.
Third, eat plenty of high-fiber foods: A diet rich in high-fiber foods can reduce inflammation. Fiber will smooth out spikes in blood sugar that increase secretion of inflammatory molecules in the body. Be sure to include whole grains – even grain products should be 100^ whole grain – along with vegetables, fruit, and beans.
Resolution 2. “Schedule” exercise in your daily calendar
Exercise has a multitude of benefits for cancer patients. A primary benefit is reduction of fatigue. This might sound paradoxical, but when feeling weary, getting up and engaging in periods of physical activity appropriate to your condition can, surprisingly, increase your energy and stamina. Plus, exercise may help in reducing stress and also helps you sleep. Strength training with weights increases the ability of your muscles to meet daily challenges of life. And careful stretching can help diminish pain and may lower tension.
But it’s easy for an exercise routine to get lost in the rush of everyday life. One way to combat that is to build time for exercise into your daily calendar. If you can set up your phone or computer to give you reminders of when your exercise “appointment” is coming up, do that! And then make it a priority to follow what’s on your calendar. Or if you can find an exercise “buddy” who will join you at a scheduled time, that might help you stay with your routine. If you do miss days, don’t berate yourself: just get back on schedule when you can. You’ll be doing your body an enormous favor!
Number 3: Make your preferred relaxation practice an everyday routine
As fundamental as diet and exercise to your 2017 health changes is deliberate daily relaxation for a total of 20 minutes. Eliciting what is called the “Relaxation Response” (RR) – the physical and biochemical opposite of the “fight or flight” hormones – with relaxed abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, quiet meditative moments, personalized comfort space imagery, etc. – can actually halt our body’s inflammatory chemicals. (Chronic stress, on the other hand, leads to greater inflammation.) The RR can also help re-regulate insulin levels that might be disrupted, also relevant to cancer. And this daily practice can, surprisingly, help inhibit specific cancer promoting factors! So it’s a win-win – feeling calmer and changing biochemistry to enhance important aspects of your health. This practice too should find a place in your daily schedule.
Let us know if we can help you with any of these recommendations.
We wish for all of our patients and readers a truly healthy 2017!