Year after year, weight loss remains the top goal people set for themselves. That’s an important goal because being a healthy weight is one of the single biggest steps individuals can take to reduce cancer risk, according to research from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
AICR’s reports show that excess body fat is a cause of 11 cancers, including post-menopausal breast, colorectal and esophageal. If everyone in the US were a healthy weight, AICR estimates that 130,600 cases of cancer could be prevented each year.
Excess body fat tissue can promote chronic inflammation, and increase blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can spur the growth of cancer cells.
“We know losing weight is not easy, and keeping it off is even harder,” said AICR Head of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, MS, RDN. “That’s why it’s good to think long-term: choose healthy foods that you love, start doing activities that you enjoy, and learn how to treat yourself in small ways.”
Below are seven research-based steps individuals can take to get to – and stay – a healthy weight.
1. Set Realistic Goals
If your resolutions are overly ambitious or vague you may find yourself overwhelmed and slipping up early in the year. Make concrete, measurable goals and schedule tasks into your day to help you achieve them.
2. Veg Out
Instead of denying yourself the foods you love, focus on replacing some with nutritious, healthful foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep you healthy and feeling full. They’re also low in calories so filling up on these can help curb your appetite while you’re watching your weight. Plus, research has found that a plant-based diet is also a cancer-protective one.
3. Get Moving
Regular physical activity can help lower blood pressure, control cholesterol and improve immune function. It’s also a key component when trying to maintain or lose weight. On top of that, get at least 30 minutes of activity a day to help lower cancer risk.
4. Get Smart about Portion Sizes
Portion sizes are big in America. Recent studies suggest that several strategies using portion awareness can all result in meaningful weight loss over a year’s time. Get to know your portions and find the right amount for your goals.
5. Don’t Drink Your Calories
Sugary soda and alcohol both add extra calories without beneficial nutrients. For each sugary drink that you swap out for water or another zero-calorie choice, you’ll save 100 to 300 calories. Plus, alcohol by itself is linked to increased risk for several cancers, including breast and colorectal.
6. Snack Smart
Snacks can help supplement your meals and provide another opportunity to add healthful food to your day. The best snacks contain complex carbohydrates like veggies or whole grains with a little healthy protein and fats to stave off hunger in-between meals. Just remember to keep portion sizes small and serve your snack on a plate, never right from the package.
7. Stay Strong
Working strength training into your schedule a few times a week can help you build muscle and burn calories. It’s a great way to mix up your fitness routine and prevent injuries.