Checklists can help you tackle everything from grocery shopping to party planning to packing for your vacationÃ¢â‚¬”and now thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one to help you seriously slash your cancer risk, too: People who follow six or more items on the American Heart AssociationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s list of seven heart-healthy guidelines lower their cancer risk by 51 percent, according to a new study.
So whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the checklist exactly? The American Heart Association calls these recommendations Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Simple 7Ã¢â‚¬Â:
Researchers looked at the health records of 13,253 men and women who took part in the Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities (ARIC) study, which was conducted from 1987 to 2006. They also reviewed participantsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ cancer registries and hospital records from those years and found that the more items from the checklist that the participants stuck to, the lower their risk for cancer. Compared to those who followed none of the recommendations, people who met three of the guidelines still had a 25 percent lower risk of cancer. Those who met six or seven had a 51 percent lower risk.
- -Being physically active
- -Keeping a healthy weight
- -Eating a healthy diet
- -Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- -Keeping blood pressure down
- -Regulating blood sugar levels
- -Not smoking
If you have to choose one item to check off first, Nieca Goldberg, MD, Medical Director of The Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU's Langone Medical Center, recommends you make it smoking. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That has a huge impact on decreasing cancer risk,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says. That said, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see the best results if you work toward checking off all of the items on the list. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re really pieces that work together,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Goldberg.
Getting started While the steps you can take to follow some of the items on the checklist are pretty straightforward (you know how to stay active, keep your weight healthy, and eat well), others arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as obvious (how do you even check your blood sugar levels?!).
To ensure youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re keeping your cholesterol in check, you have to know what it is: You should get your first cholesterol test in your 20s, says Goldberg. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200, your HDL, or Ã¢â‚¬Å“goodÃ¢â‚¬Â cholesterol, should be greater than 50, and your LDL, or Ã¢â‚¬Å“badÃ¢â‚¬Â cholesterol, should be less than 130, she says. After your initial test, you can wait another five years before your next one if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re an otherwise healthy person and have good lifestyle habits, she says.
As for your blood pressure, be sure to get it checked out every time you see your primary care doctor. It should be less than or equal to 120 over 80.
A blood glucose test checks the level of sugar in your body and is used to screen for diabetes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re eating healthy and working out, you probably donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need oneÃ¢â‚¬”but your doctor can let you know if you have any warning signs that make it a good idea to get tested. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s involved: You wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t eat for eight hours, and then a doctor will take a blood sample to determine your fasting blood glucose level. The number should be below 100. Any higher, and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in the pre-diabetes or diabetes range, in which case your doctor may prescribe you medications or insulin.
Possible saboteurs Certain habits can undermine your efforts to check off every item on the list. Two big issues common among young women, says Goldberg: drinking too much and popping certain pills like Accutane. Boozing can actually weaken your heart muscle and enlarge it. Alcohol is also toxic to your ticker, says Goldberg. Her recommendation: Stick to one drink a day at most. As for the pills youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re taking, ask your doctor if a drug will raise your triglycerides or cholesterol level before he writes you a prescription (since this can put you at risk for heart disease).
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