Chemotherapy, radiation exposure, and other conventional cancer treatments contribute to aging at a genetic and cellular level, prompting human DNA to begin unraveling and cells to die sooner than normal. Some of the medication used to treat cancer also appears to cause accelerated aging. These drugs include steroids, hormone therapy, and some targeted cancer therapies.
Dr. Charles Shapiro, director of cancer survivorship programs at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai, in New York City, said that “We are now struggling with our own success. This only comes up as a product of how well we are doing in terms of cancer mortality and increasing the population of survivors. Now, we have to deal with the consequences. Sure, you’re alive and that’s great, but there are consequences.”
In response, there is now a movement aimed to reduce the amount of treatment necessary to address cancer, as a means to avoid the aging effects.
How to Prevent Cancer Treatments From Aging You
Taking these steps can help slow down the aging process and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence.
- Add physical activity to your regular routine
Exercise can reverse aging and improve your sense of well-being after cancer treatment. Cancer survivors who exercise may also experience:
- Increased strength and endurance
- Less anxiety
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Improved mood
- Reduced fatigue
- Less pain
- Improved sleep
- Higher self-esteem
- Lower risk of cancer returning
The American Cancer Society recommends exercising for at least 150 minutes a week, inclusive of strength training for at least two days per week. As your body recovers and adjusts, you might find that more challenging exercises make you feel stronger and healthier. However, remember to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
- Eat foods that keep you young and healthy
Though aging is a natural part of life, eating certain foods can help you age better.
A balanced diet that also combats premature aging includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, nuts, and fatty fish. The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients and survivors:
- Add healthy fats to your daily diet, including extra virgin olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts and fish
- Eat a minimum of 2.5 cups of fruits and veggies a day
- Choose proteins that are low in saturated fat, including lean meats, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, and legumes
- Select healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes
- Drink green tea, which is high in antioxidants that protect against cancer-causing and skin-aging free radicals
This combination of foods will help you fuel your body with the vitamins and nutrients you need to not only make your body strong, but also help you look younger.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Most cancer patients either gain or lose some weight during treatment. If you did, too, try to get your weight back to a healthy level. Ask your doctor what is considered a healthy weight for you and what you should do to achieve that goal weight. Talking to a dietitian or nutritionist can also help you devise ways to gain or lose weight safely.
- Don’t underestimate the anti-aging powers of sleep
Sleep deprivation is common in cancer patients and survivors. Physical changes, side effects of treatment, and cancer-related PTSD are some of the most reported reasons. However, getting enough sleep is a crucial part of your recovery. Sleeping gives both your mind and body time to unwind and refresh, helping you function at your very best when you’re awake. Getting quality sleep at night also boosts cognitive skills, lowers blood pressure, improves hormone function, and prevents premature aging.
Beauty sleep is real. To maximize your chances of getting quality sleep, practice healthy sleep habits.
- Stop stressing
The physical, emotional, and social effects of being a cancer survivor can take a significant toll on your psyche. There’s no strong-enough evidence showing that managing stress can increase the chances of cancer survival, but effective stress management techniques can improve your quality of life, ultimately making you look younger and happier.
Some effective stress management strategies include:
- Practicing mindfulness
- Joining a cancer support group
- Interacting with friends and family
- Taking medications for depression and/or anxiety
- Never pick up a cigarette
Nicotine is only one of the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes that can contribute to wrinkles and premature skin aging. Unless you want to age at an accelerated rate, quit the habit once and for all. Smoking and chewing tobacco can also cause cancer to recur. Quitting now could save your life (and protect the health of those you love) as well as reduce your risk of developing a second type of cancer (second primary cancer).
If you’re struggling to quit smoking, do not hesitate to seek help. Check our Foolproof Strategies to Quit Smoking and ask your healthcare provider about resources to help you quit.
- Drink alcohol in moderation (or give it up completely)
If you decide to continue drinking alcohol, remember to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65 is the recommended limit. For men younger than 65, up to two drinks per day is the limit.
Alcohol has some health benefits. For example, consuming one drink a day may lower your risk of heart disease. However, it can also heighten the risk of certain malignant diseases, including cancers that arise in the mouth, throat, and liver. Furthermore, there is a strong relationship between alcohol and aging.
To determine whether you should continue or stop drinking, weigh both the benefits and risks of alcohol consumption with your doctor.
Do What You Can Today
Take one step at a time and make changes to your lifestyle slowly. Easing into a regular workout routine and healthy diet can make it more likely for you to stick with these changes for the rest of your life.
If your cancer returns, just know that you have other options. Safe alternative cancer treatments — ones that do not accelerate aging the way conventional treatments do — can penetrate the root of your disease while simultaneously improving your quality of life to prevent premature aging. Call us now at 480-757-6573 to schedule a consultation.