Between the troubled economy and the raging debate about how to reform health care in the U.S., the average health care consumer faces a lot of uncertainty. But there are certainly easy, low-cost steps everyone can take to safeguard themselves from the nation's second-leading cause of death: cancer.
"Cancer is a disease that is cheaper to prevent than treat," says Michele Forman, Ph.D., a professor at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "If we eat healthier meals and increase daily exercise, we could avoid about one-third [of], or 186,000, cancer deaths this year."
In the spirit of thrift and personal responsibility, here are five budget-friendly activities that can reduce your chances of getting cancer.
1. Exercise Daily
Dr. Forman suggests putting in at least 30 minutes of low- to high-intensity exercise on five or more days a week, depending on your fitness level. Forty-five to 60 minutes of exercise is even better. Children and teens should do at least 60 minutes a day of moderate- to high-intensity exercise at least five days a week.
"It's okay to gradually increase your exercise to 30 minutes a day if you currently aren't exercising," notes the doctor.
If a gym membership isn't within your financial means, many low-cost exercise options are available. For example, local city parks and recreation centers in many areas offer a variety of cost-friendly fitness opportunities, such as free or low-cost gym memberships and sports programs for adults and kids. Parks can also be a great place to go hiking, running, walking or biking, as well as to gather with family and friends to play sports. Contact your local parks and recreation department to learn what's available in your area.
Hospitals, health care systems and other health and fitness community organizations across the country offer free or reduced-cost programs to get you moving. Visit www.fitness.gov to find a program in your area.
2. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Vegetables and fruits contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients researchers have found to help prevent cancer. Eating five servings of fruit and vegetable daily, as recommended by the National Cancer Institute, among other federal health agencies, is also a great way for you to maintain a healthy weight, which itself goes a long way for preventing cancer. Variety is key to reaching that five-a-day goal, and choosing several colorful members of nature's bounty keeps things interesting for your eyes as well as your taste buds.
While fruits and vegetables are great healthful eating choices, buying enough of them to meet your five-a-day serving can be costly. To keep your grocery spending in check, consider an alternative to your regular grocery store: your local farmers' market.
Local farmers not only offer some of the freshest produce in town, but they also have some of the cheapest prices too. You can find a listing of farmers' markets at www.usda.gov. Additionally, some farms individually sell their produce to local consumers or sell you-pick-it subscriptions. Search online or ask family and friends about farms in your area that sell seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Nutrition assistance programs are available too so that children and adults in need can obtain the food they need for a healthful diet. Visit www.fns.usda.gov to see if one of these programs can help you and your family.
3. Avoid Tobacco
There's no avoiding this fact: Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death in the U.S. Each year, it causes about 169,000 cancer-related deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. If the prospect of living longer isn't enough to get you to quit using tobacco or not start in the first place, then here's another compelling reason: Quitting tobacco could save you up to $4,000 a year.
If you are a tobacco user and are ready to break that habit, here are some free resources to help you:
- The National Cancer Institute offers free information and support to help you quit. Learn about their services at www.smokfree.gov.
- The American Cancer Society's Quitline provides tailored support, as well as tools and steps to help you become smoke-free. More information is available at www.yesquit.com.
- M. D. Anderson smoking cessation studies help people quit tobacco through treatment methods. Learn more at www.mdanderson.org/preventionstudy.
4. Practice Sun Safety
More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2009. Unprotected exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) light is the top cause of skin cancer.
Staying safe in the sun may seem expensive, but it doesn't have to be. For example, costly sunscreen labeled as having a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 70 doesn't have much advantage over a less expensive sunscreen with an SPF of 15, so long as you apply and reapply the sunscreen properly. Remember this sunscreen-shopping tip: UV protection essentially does not increase as the SPF number on the label goes up. SPF 15 absorbs 93 percent of the sun's burning rays, and SPF 70 absorbs about 98 percent of them. You must ask yourself if that relatively small difference in absorption really justify the often exorbitant cost difference between the two products.
Sunglasses are another sun safety purchase that can get out of hand--and out of budget--quickly. While sunglasses are a must to protect your eyes from sun damage, you don't have to buy costly shades to get good UV protection for your peepers. When shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, just look for ones that have broad-spectrum UV protection that absorb at least 99 percent of UV rays.
5. Get Regular Check-ups
Skipping your annual physical may seem like no big deal, but you do yourself a disservice if you opt out of a regular check-up to save a few bucks. At these check-ups, you often receive cancer screening exams, medical tests you get when you're healthy and don't have any signs of illness. These tests help ensure cancer is found at its earliest, when it's most treatable: The chances of surviving colorectal, breast and cervical cancers are higher if detected early. In addition to finding cancer early, screening exams for colorectal and cervical cancers can identify abnormal cells that may turn into cancer so they can be removed.
Many states and counties offer free or low-cost screening exams for men and women who qualify. To learn about what your state offers, call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.
Whether the economy is robust and solid or slim and shaky, every person must decide how much she or he is willing to spend for good health. But as these and other healthful living tips show, good health doesn't have to cost a lot.