8 Simple Rules to Reduce Your Risk of Dying Early

Back in 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) together with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) issued their official recommendations on diet, physical activity, and weight management for cancer prevention. They based these recommendations on the best and most comprehensive scientific evidence currently available.

I’m going to tell you what these 8 recommendations are in just a minute, but there’s a more important issue we need to address first, namely: do the recommendations matter?

I mean, if following them made no difference, who needs to bother to know what they are? They only matter if they actually work.

And by “work”, I mean: Do they help you live longer?

Recently, researchers decided to investigate that very question. They took 378,864 participants from nine European countries enrolled into this thing called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. And they basically checked—as researchers can do—to see how much these folks were complying with the anti-cancer recommendations. Then they gave everyone a score, with those scoring highest having the greatest compliance with the recommendations and those scoring lowest having the least.

(Remember, a high WCRF/AICR score means you are pretty much following the diet, exercise and weight management recommendations of the two major research institutions (World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research). A low score means you’re pretty much ignoring the recs.)

So the researchers followed these 378,000 folks for a total of 12.8 years, during which 23,828 folks unfortunately passed away. Then they looked to see whether compliance with the recommendations helped keep folks out of that group of 23,828.

That would be something useful to know, wouldn’t it? If following the health guidelines didn’t give you any advantage over someone who ignored them, why bother to follow them?

The researchers developed a scale of 1-6 for men and 1-7 for women, depending on which of the guidelines (6 for men, 7 for women) they consistently followed.

Here’s what they found:

“Participants within the highest category of the WCRF/AICR score (5-6 points in men, 6-7 points in women) had a 34% lower hazard of death compared with participants within the lowest category of WCRF/AICR score (-2 points in men, 0-3 points in women). The WCRF/AICR score was also significantly associated with a lower hazard of dying from cancer, circulatory disease, and respiratory disease”.

Did you get that?

Those who followed these basic recommendations wound up dead 34% less of the time than those who didn’t. Your risk of being in the “wound up dead” group at the end of almost 13 years was reduced by 34% just by following these simple recommendations. And, not just being dead, but specifically being dead from cancer, circulatory disease (i.e. heart and brain disease) and respiratory disease (i.e. lung).

Now do you want to know what the eight recommendations are?

I thought so.

Caveat emptor—for my part, I don’t agree with every single word that follows, but I agree with the majority of them and with the spirit of the others if not the letter. Obviously, for example, I believe strongly in dietary supplementation and believe that many of the nutrients I take on a daily basis do work in some way to reduce the risk of cancer. And for those consuming grass-fed meat, I don’t agree that it needs to be limited to 16 ounces a week. But, really, people, these are details, and not the kind in which the devil is found. Basically, these are seven easy-to-follow recommendations that ought to make a lot of difference and save a whole lot of lives if they were followed regularly.

So here, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the eight basic recommendations for diet, physical activity and weight management for cancer prevention from two of the most respected and esteemed research organizations in the world, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research:

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
  2. Be physically active as part of your everyday life
  3. Limit consumption of (high-calorie) foods; avoid sugary drinks
  4. Eat mostly foods of plant origin
  5. Limit intake of red meat (i.e. <500 g a week, i.e. 16-18 ounces) and avoid processed meat
  6. Limit consumption of alcoholic drinks (2 or less a day for men, 1 or less a day for women)
  7. Limit consumption of salt—specifically, limit consumption of processed foods with added salt to ensure an intake of <6 grams a day (2400 mg of sodium)
  8. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone (i.e. dietary supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention).

In a time when nutrition info and recommendations are becoming increasingly complex, it’s good to have a touchstone document or two reminding us of the basics.

And speaking of the basics, here are mine:

  • Eat real food.
  • Move around a lot.
  • Have a healthy respect for all the stuff we do not fully understand yet, especially when it comes to weight, obesity and disease.
  • Do the best you can.
  • Eat a lot of plants.
  • Don’t drink too much and don’t eat foods with a ton of added sodium.
  • Don’t eat sugar, don’t eat trans fats, eat dessert once a week.
  • Stay out of McDonald’s.
  • Aim for a nutrient-dense diet and stop drinking soda.
  • Be happy, count your blessings, contribute to others.
  • Make Love, frequently.
  • Play with an animal.
  • Get some sun.
  • Leave the toilet seat down.
  • Did I mention moving around a lot? (Just wanted to see if you’re paying attention.)

We may not know everything, but we do know some things, and one thing I know—with absolute certainty—is what my grandmother would have said if she had been asked what she thought of the eight recommendations listed above:

She would’ve said two words: “Couldn’t hurt”.

And she would have been— as grandmothers tend to be— absolutely, 100% right.