Healthy living is the new catch phrase of our time. The media is filled with stories and pictures of people working out in gyms, eating health foods and living the good life. While there is nothing wrong with healthy living many of the messages carried in the media are overstated.

People are told to mega dose on vitamins, to eat faddy diets and to buy new wonder pills that are claimed to give them new vigour and vitality. Many even suggest they can prevent cancer.

So what is the truth? Taking a rational look at the evidence, world medical literature to date strongly suggests that living a healthy lifestyle is indeed beneficial to your health. But what exactly is a “healthy lifestyle” and how do we ensure we live a healthy life?

What is good for you?

  • Eating a low saturated fat, low salt, high fibre diet
  • Taking some supplement or vitamins if you feel you need them
  • Regular aerobic exercise (half hour on alternate days is the minimum)
  • Stopping smoking
  • Alcohol consumption restricted to two units per day
  • Avoiding stress

What is bad for you?

  • Taking mega doses of vitamins (particularly vitamin A).
  • Taking mega doses of minerals (particularly iron, zinc, selenium).
  • Passive smoking (even if you do not smoke yourself, sitting in a room with other smokers can be damaging to your health).
  • Listening to the glib promises of unbelievable vitality if you take this new ‘natural remedy’. In other words, beware of the ‘gurus’.
  • Not going to your doctor when you notice that something is wrong (see below).

How does this affect my breasts?

There seems to be a close relationship between dietary fat intake and breast cancer incidence in most populations. Although this does not prove that high saturated fat diet will significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, it is very suggestive. Closely associated is the observation that obesity has been shown to double the breast cancer risk in women after the menopause. So if you are fat and over fifty years, your risk of getting carcinoma of the breast is twice that of a thin fifty-year-old female. No association between obesity and breast cancer has ever been demonstrated in pre-menopausal females or women who are still having their periods. There are many other advantages to eating a low fat, high fibre diet.

Eating a healthy diet

Try to replace saturated fat with good fats in your diet. These so-called good fats are unsaturated, either poly-unsaturated or mono-unsaturated.

These are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soya bean oils as well as olive oil, avocados and rapeseed oil (canola oil). The important component of these oils is the omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. The other good fat is fish oil fat. The chemicals in fish oil are eicosapentanoic acid and docosahexanoic acid, which are beneficial to the body. Fish oils tend to lower the triglyceride fats in the body and contain omega 3 fatty acids and are found in high concentration in cold seawater fish such as mackerel and salmon.

Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. These should form a large component of any diet. Besides being a source of fibre (roughage), these foods contain the antioxidant vitamins (vitamins E, C and A). Antioxidants are free radical scavengers in the body. They mop up the toxic free radicals that may play a part in cancer, heart disease, aging and so on.

We should eat about thirty grams of fibre per day. In South Africa, rural people tend to eat more fibre and easily reach this but urban people tend to eat half of this or less. One of the best ways to boost fibre intake is to supplement your daily fibre intake with high quality fibre supplement. Other ways to boost your fibre intake include eating unrefined breads and cereals and plenty of fresh vegetables. A recently completed large study involving more than 40 000 people over a period of ten years in the USA found an inverse relationship between increased fibre intake and decreased heart attacks.

Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption

There is a strong correlation between high alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Women who drink more than two units of alcohol per day (one large glass of wine) may have a higher risk of getting Breast Cancer. Before alcohol is given up totally, it is important to remember that small daily doses of alcohol are actually good for you. That will not increase the risk of Breast Cancer but will reduce the risk of heart disease. This is because alcohol raises the levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) which decreases the chance of coronary artery disease.

What does exercise do for you?

Exercise increases good cholesterol which is protective against heart disease. It also helps blood pressure and helps you to lose weight. Recent findings from a large study from the USA found that Breast Cancer patients who walk or exercise for three to five hours a week are 50% less likely to die from their cancer.

Stopping smoking

Each cigarette you smoke harms your health and passive smoking harms those around. Cigarette smoke causes health problems due to blocked arteries, cancer (lung, bladder, oral) and obstructive lung disease (emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravates asthma). It should be noted however, that no correlation between smoking and Breast Cancer has ever been demonstrated so smoking does not cause Breast Cancer.

Avoid prolonged stress

It is difficult to avoid stress nowadays. Although it has repeatedly been demonstrated that stress can damage your health there is no relationship between stress and Breast Cancer. The hormones that are affected by stress however can suppress the immune system with decreased wellness. Some good ways to bring down stress levels are through exercise or by increasing the ability to relax, by using relaxation techniques, listening to music, being in nature. Alternative medicine such as aromatherapy, reflexology or acupuncture may also help.