Prevention series 6 of 8 | A Healthy Body Weight Protects Against Cancer

by Natalie on July 28, 2011

So far we have covered a lot of ground. I hope you are starting to feel empowered by learning about all the things you can do to prevent cancer.

There are three more installments left in the series, and I think they are some of they most important recommendations yet. This series is based on the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommendations for cancer prevention. If you are new to the series, use the links below to access all previous articles.

Today we will be talking about how weight affects our cancer risk. For cancer prevention, the AICR recommends “to be as lean as possible without becoming underweight”. This recommendation is not to be taking lightly. The AICR states that maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our cancer risk.

How Weight Affects Cancer Risk

This recommendation really refers to body composition. Researchers from the expert report on cancer prevention found that excess body fat increases the risk for several cancers including breast cancer. The evidence they found to explain this relationship is very strong.

Most of us probably picture fat tissue as being ‘lazy’. In reality, fat mass is really quite active, but not in a helpful way. Body fat produces several hormones and proteins that promote cell growth and reproduction. Someone who has a larger fat mass will produce more of these growth promoters. When our body cells grow and reproduce more quickly, there is a greater opportunity for cancer. Location of fat mass matters too. Fat stored around the waist and abdomen is even more active at producing growth factors.

A Healthy Weight

There are a few tools you can use to help determine if you are at a healthy weight. These include body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. On a side note, BMI is not the most effective tool to use if you have a large muscle mass. A high muscle mass will give a falsely high BMI. This rule usually applies to athletes, most of us can use BMI without a problem.

To determine your BMI all you need to know is your current height and weight. You can take the time to do the calculation on your own or you can use one of the many BMI calculators available on the web. Here is a good one from the CDC. For those of you who would like to do the calculation on your own, I will give you the equation below.

BMI = [Weight in Pounds / (height in inches x height in inches) ] x 703

Example of a woman who weighs 145# and is 69″: (145 / 4761) x 703 = 21.4

A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. The example above indicates a healthy BMI. Use the link above or the equation provided to discover your own BMI.

Waist circumference is another really helpful tool to assess weight. As we learned above, fat around the abdominal area is very active at producing growth promoters that put us at greater risk for cancer. Keeping your waist circumference within a healthy range will help combat this.

To measure your waist circumference, all you will need is a tape measure. Find the top of your hip bone and place the tape measure there. Without sucking in, wrap the tape measure around your entire waist. Record the number. For women, a healthy reading is less than 31.5 inches. For men, a healthy reading is less than 37 inches.

Taking Action

Don’t be discouraged if your BMI and waist circumference are not within the healthy range. It is never too late to step your foot in the right direction. When it comes to weight loss, small steps make a big difference. Having said that, please don’t wait to get started! Nothing is more valuable than your health. It is up to you and only you. You are totally responsible for your own body. Make a decision to start your healthy lifestyle today!

Tips For Starting a Healthy Lifestyle

If you have determined that you need to lose some weight, figuring out where to start can be the most difficult thing to do. Here are some ideas to get started:

1. Spend five minutes writing about why you want to become more healthy. Keep this record in a safe place. When motivation is low or you lose focus, pull it out and read what you wrote.

2. Think about your current eating and exercise behavior. What needs to change? If you are not sure what needs to change, compare your current diet with the prevention diet outlined in this series. Pick one or two things and create a specific goal to achieve. Try to pick one food goal and one fitness goal. For example: I will only consume unsweetened beverages, and I will walk for 15 minutes a day, 3 times per week. Start small with your goals and increase as you consistently achieve them.

3. Give yourself a pantry makeover. What you keep in your house is what you will eat. Read my Prevention Pantry article for ideas.

4. Get organized. Schedule meals and exercise ahead of time by writing them down on your calendar.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Nothing can ever be achieved if you give up. Obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle. There is never going to be a quick fix. Celebrate small achievements that you make along the way, and most importantly keep going!

If you want to read more about making small changes, check out this post.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is one of the most important things we can do to prevent cancer and other chronic disease. This is great news because our weight is something within our control. Start living a healthy lifestyle today!

Tell me what you think! Leave a comment in the comments section.


photo by: funkdooby

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