Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer with Diet and Exercise

Water Pitcher

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, and the second leading cause of death from cancer. But it’s something we don’t hear a lot about. March was designated Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in order to educate, bring awareness, and inform about risk factors and ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Though there is no 100% prevention plan, there are many ways we can take our health into our hands and reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer because diet, exercise, and regular screenings can save your life.

Here are effective ways to improve colon health while reducing your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Stop smoking. Most of us associate smoking and lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Association, smokers are more likely to develop, and die from, colorectal cancer.  So, too, do heavy drinkers have a higher risk of developing cancer.

How? This remains the million-dollar question. And it’s never easy to break an addiction. The American Cancer Association provides this guide to quit smoking. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a healthy road.

Maintaining a healthy weight being mindful of what we eat is one of the best ways to prevent developing colorectal cancer. Having a large waistline increases the chances of colorectal cancer, especially in men.


  1. Watch out for portion distortion! Beware of the “clean your plate” mentality. Listen to your body. Stop when you’re sated. Share an entrée at the restaurant, or two appetizers. Automatically have the waiter pack up half your food to go. Never super-size anything!
  2. Become a fruit and veggie addict. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. ¼ can go to a protein, and the last ¼ to carbs.
  3. Avoid distractions while eating, like watching TV or working on the computer. When we don’t pay attention to what’s on our plate and what’s going in our bodies, we’re more likely to overeat.
  4. Avoid foods containing simple sugars, artificial sweeteners, and refined carbs. All of these can make you bloated and constipated. Reduce red meats and try to cut back on processed meats. When meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or adding preservatives (nitrates), carcinogens are formed.  Everybody wants a piece of pepperoni pizza once in a while. Just don’t make it a daily treat.

Exercise boosts digestion, increases muscle control, and the body’s urge to go to the bathroom. This leads to a healthier colon.

Walking DogHow? Find ways to squeak exercise into your daily life. Walk away from bad habits! Walk your kids to school. Take the stairs at work. Park in the space furthest from the building. During commercial breaks stretch, jump rope, or practice yoga. Download a walking app to count steps, like Googlefit or Runkeeper. Track your steps, set goals, and see how quickly you’ll get addicted to moving more!

Hydrate! Most of us don’t get the fluids our bodies need. When we’re hydrated, we’re less likely to be constipated. Most registered dietitians and physicians recommend 8 – 9 glasses of water each day.

How?  Keep a bottle of water next to you at all times. Set a timer or alarm to remind you to drink. Get technological! Just as you can measure steps, you can measure how much you drink with Waterlogged and Daily Water.

Fiber up! On average, Americans need 25 – 35 grams of fiber a day, but we’re only eating 13 grams. Like water, fiber helps us with digestion, reducing the risk of constipation. Increase fiber intake slowly, as it takes a while for the body to adapt to it, and you might feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Fiber BeansHow? Incorporate beans into your daily diet. Choose whole grains, quinoa, barley, farro, wheat berries, oatmeal more often than refined grains like crackers, bread, pretzels and cold cereals, rice. Snack on fruits – mango, pears, bananas, and berries. Sneak fiber into every meal!

Get regular screenings. After the age of 50, the American Cancer Association recommends you get regular screenings, if you don’t have any other risk factors. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 2 diabetes, are African or Jewish of Eastern European descent, you have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and should ask your healthcare provider about screenings earlier.

How? Ask your healthcare provider about a colorectal screening and cancer test. Coverage of colorectal cancer screenings is required by the Affordable Care Act.

Only 5% of people who develop colorectal cancer have an inherited syndrome. At the end of the day, prevention isn’t about losing weight, instead having a healthy lifestyle: exercise, eat fiber, fruits and veggies, and cut out problematic foods and behaviors. Add regular screenings, depending on your age and risk group, and you greatly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.