40 per cent of cancers caused by unhealthy lifestyles

The shocking news revealed by Cancer Research UK today – that more than 100,000 cancers are caused by unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking, alcohol, a poor diet and being overweight;  has strengthened my resolve to continue with my Lifestyle Challenge on a permanent basis.

The harsh truth is that cancer is not some dreadful disease that afflicts unfortunate people at random; though of course some cancers are present in the genes – 40 per cent are self-inflicted through lifestyle, based on choices that we make.

Smoking is the most important lifestyle factor linked to cancer, causing 23 per cent of cancers in men and 16 per cent in women. That’s nearly one in five. A lack of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet is responsible for 6.1 per cent of cancers in men and 6.9 per cent in women.

Alcohol is linked to 4.6 per cent of cancers in men and 3.6 per cent in women and being overweight and obese accounts for 4.1 per cent of cancers in men and 3.4 per cent in women. But imagine if you smoke, drink, are overweight or obese and live on junk food: your risk of getting diagnosed with cancer is greatly increased.

I have never smoked but did use to enjoy one to two bottles of red wine per week, did not exercise regularly and ate a poor diet. Five months into my Lifestyle Challenge I have lost one and a half stone, given up alcohol apart from the occasional social drinking; I exercise regularly and have added more fruit and vegetables to my diet.

My grandparents, grand aunt and uncles and great grandparents lived well into their nineties and many were centenarians. One of my grand uncles lives to 108, another to 106 and my maternal grandmother died aged 103 in 2005 in Jamaica. Long life is in the genes. They ate simple diets based on organic home-grown food and did not eat huge meals or junk food.

Sadly, many of their children who migrated to the UK and who adopted western lifestyles and diets have been afflicted with heart disease, type II diabetes and strokes. Mortality wise, we are going backwards. 

I firmly believe that our lives are a gift from God. I remember sharing Christmas with my maternal grandmother in 2003 when she was 102 and her remarking that she was “happy to be alive” and grateful for God’s blessing of longevity.

I therefore feel a duty to cherish the gift of life by protecting my health. Shortening our lives through smoking, drinking and over-eating is almost like saying that we do not value God’s gift of life.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee that we will never be ill, or succumb to disease, but it greatly reduces the risk, so it’s worth making the changes.

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