The power to protect yourself

The fifth annual Tri for a Cure is coming up and, with that, women across Maine are gearing up to race and raise money for cancer treatment and prevention in Maine. While the Tri for a Cure is obviously an excellent fundraiser for cancer research, it also serves as an outstanding tool for cancer prevention. That is because one of the major causes of cancer today is obesity due to poor diet and lack of exercise.

Even if you think a triathlon is out of your reach right now, I cannot overemphasize the importance of exercise to your health.

The American Cancer Society estimates that one-third of the more than 572,000 cancer deaths each year in the U.S. can be attributed to poor diet and limited physical activity, while another third are caused by exposure to tobacco products.

Make the decision to begin the fight against cancer today by adding more exercise and a better diet to your life. Since it’s summer, now is the perfect time to kick off some new healthy habits. Begin with the top three cancer prevention strategies: exercise, diet and smoking cessation, and then add the other tips I’ve listed below. Thanks to the fundraising from events such as Tri for a Cure, there are new treatments for cancer being developed every day. But you have the chance to help prevent cancer yourself. If you had the opportunity to reduce your chance of getting cancer, would you do it? If so, read below and begin today.

Make a plan for exercise. Start with 30 minutes every day. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. You can walk every day. Take a swim class and learn how to do laps. Go for a bike ride. Sign up for an adult soccer or tennis club. Take yoga, pilates or dance. Join a gym. Sign up for a 5K race this fall and start training today.

Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Summer is an excellent time to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Eat more from your garden or go to the farmers market and get some fresh tomatoes, herbs and fruit. Try new vegetables such as kohlrabi, kale or tatsoi. Instead of ice cream, have fruit for dessert. Is there anything more refreshing for summer than a nice bowl of berries and cream or a nice slice of watermelon? If you start these habits today, you’ll be more likely to keep them as the weather gets colder.

Eat less meat. If this seems hard, try small. Institute “Meatless Mondays” in your home to start. You may find you enjoy the change in your regular menu planning. Also, by having meals without meat, it’s even easier to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet.

Quit smoking. Tobacco is the No. 1 most preventable cause of cancer. Quit smoking and don’t spend time around other people who are smoking.

See your doctor regularly. Make sure you see your physician once a year so he or she can guide you through the screening process and make age-appropriate suggestions and recommendations. For the younger set, the HPV vaccine and regular Pap smears are important. As you get older, mammograms and colon cancer screenings are advised.

Wear sunblock. Not only will you be preventing skin cancer, but also you will be preventing wrinkles at the same time. Use SPF 15 or higher, reapply regularly, and wear all year long, every kind of weather.

Do self-breast exams monthly. Many times a patient finds a lump and comes in to be seen. Often these are benign, but we have caught breast cancer this way. The more often you do the exams, the more aware of what is “normal” in your breast so when something seems abnormal, you’re more likely to notice it. And that goes into my last tip:

Know your body and take care of it. You’ve had it – and you will have it – all of your life. Nobody knows it better than you. If anything seems different – if you see any lumps, bumps, spots that seem strange, or if you are feeling any pain that seems unusual – contact your doctor. We want to see you if you have a question. We would rather reassure you that there is nothing wrong than not see you until it’s too late.

In honor of the Tri for a Cure, we can all become cancer-fighters. While there is no silver bullet (yet) to completely prevent cancer, these tips give you the power to do what you can to protect yourself.

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