Today’s lifestyle is an open invitation for cancer. Everything we do from what we eat to how often we move promotes the disease’s development. Even our location and choice of profession can heighten our risk. There seems to be no effective method of prevention. We are all doomed to have at least one type of cancer before we die, unless, of course, we join the monastery.
The monks on Greece’s Mount Athos have a rate of prostate cancer one quarter the size of the international average. At one point, they had a zero percent occurrence of lung and bladder cancer. Why? Their lives are the exact opposite of ours. Their days, aside from prayer, are spent engaged in physical activity. They grow much of their own food in an environment free of air pollution. They eat no meat, having fish only on special occasions, and consume no olive oil, dairy or wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, soy, bread and olives create the foundation for their meals, which are small, simple and offered at regular intervals. They lead lives almost identical to the ones their brothers led 1,000 years ago. They enjoy low levels of stress and minimal health concerns. They exist as our cancer-bound bodies wish we would. But can we really all join the monastery?
Obviously not. Gender alone rules out half of the population, since the only females on Mount Athos are felines. Besides, if we all became monks, I have a feeling the stress-free, quiet life these 1,500 men enjoy would disappear, quickly. Therefore, to lessen the likelihood of developing a disease that lurks in every corner, we should, rather than donning a friar’s robes, work the following tips into our lives:
- Avoid Tobacco – In addition to causing 80 percent of all lung cancers, tobacco smoke increases the risk of developing esophageal, mouth and throat cancer.
- Limit Alcohol – The benefits of alcohol can be easily overshadowed by the threat of cancer. Drink in moderation – no more than two glasses a day.
- Wear Sunscreen - Every day, regardless of season, cloud cover and your own skin color, apply sunscreen with an SPF no less than 15.
- Practice Safe Sex – HPV, a common STD, is known to significantly raise the risk of developing cervical cancer. Safe sex and regular gynecological exams are the best way to prevent this particular type (and a smart idea in general).
- Exercise Regularly – Physical inertia and unhealthy weights have been repeatedly linked to the development of nearly all cancers. Keep moving and stay fit.
- Maintain a Varied, Nutritious Diet – Limit your fat intake, particularly animal fat. Get your protein from plants and lean meat, and eat a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat Locally – The monks have the right idea. Almost everything, including their wine, is grown and made on Mount Athos. Eating locally or growing your own produce allows you to limit the toxins and know what’s going into your body.
- Get checked – There is nothing more important than regular screening. Check yourself and have your doctor check you. Follow the guidelines for each cancer. If any do develop, at least you’ll catch it quickly and be able to treat it before it spreads.