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December 2014

Adopt These 5 Habits for Better Colon Health

Health experts aren’t sure exactly what causes colorectal cancer. Many factors may play a part. These include a family history of the disease and your age. They have also yet to pinpoint how to prevent the cancer. But a recent study found that adopting 5 healthy habits may be the key.

Two men walking down the street in winter

Lowering your risk

In the journal BMC Medicine, researchers set out to test if a certain lifestyle pattern might lower a person’s risk for colorectal cancer. To do so, they first created a healthy lifestyle index. This index took into account 5 behaviors:

  • Staying at a healthy weight

  • Not smoking

  • Getting regular physical activity—at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most or all days of the week

  • Limiting alcohol—no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 for women in a day

  • Eating a healthy diet—more fruits, vegetables, and fish, but less red and processed meats

With this index in hand, researchers rated the lifestyles of more than 347,000 adults. For each healthy behavior met, study participants received a point. The scale ranged from 1—the least healthy lifestyle—to 5—the most healthy. Researchers then followed the people until they developed cancer, died, or dropped out of the study. In half of the cases, that period was 12 or more years.

What did they find? Each healthy behavior that a person followed lowered his or her chance for colorectal cancer by 12%. Combining all 5 could amount to a 60% drop in risk for the disease.

Adding up the benefits

Many people struggle to keep up healthy habits. Nineteen percent of Americans still smokes. Eight out of 10 people don’t exercise enough. And nearly one-third are overweight or obese. Yet, making just 1 lifestyle change may help. For instance, adding more fiber to your diet may lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

Need more incentive than that to strive for a healthy lifestyle? Consider this: You may also live longer. Past research has noted longer life spans in people who adopt healthy habits. Following 3 or more of them can add up to many more years. They can lower your chance for heart disease and other related conditions. Ongoing studies have also noted a drop in other types of cancer, such as those of the lung and breast, when people stop smoking or make other healthy changes.

In preventing colorectal cancer, though, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Regular screenings are vital, too. They can help find the cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. Experts recommend everyone age 50 or older be screened for the disease. Unfortunately, too few people follow this advice. They may dismiss such tests or not know about them.


Should you be screened for colorectal cancer? This article can help you decide.


Online resources


National Cancer Institute

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/22/2014
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