5 simple New Year’s resolutions to keep you healthy in 2017

Why not make 2017 about looking after your health? And we’re not talking about strict diets or monumental exercise challenges – just simple, easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer, improve your health, and help you feel good.

1. Volunteer your time

Volunteers are the lifeblood of non-profit organisations. Each year, over 10,000 people donate their time to the NZBCF, whether it’s out on the streets, on the road, or in our office. All around New Zealand, many more give their time to other organisations, or directly to people in need.

But as well as helping others, volunteers are helping themselves.

Eric Kim, an American researcher, tracked older adults in the USA who joined a program tutoring children. During their time volunteering these adults saw improvements in stamina and memory, as well as lower levels of depression – some of which, he thinks, is because they've found a greater sense of purpose.

In another study, he saw that adults who volunteer are more like to get flu shots, mammograms, Pap smears and prostate exams. Caring for others, he concluded, makes us more likely to care for ourselves.

This year, why not try volunteering? You can donate as little or a much of your time as you like.

2. Eat less processed meat

In October 2015 the World Health Organisation classified processed meat as carcinogenic – meaning that it can cause cancer.

The most recent research shows that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year are caused by diets high in processed meat. That’s still relatively small compared to the 1,000,000 cancer deaths per year caused by tobacco smoking, 600,000 from alcohol consumption, and more than 200,000 from air pollution. Compared to other carcinogens, the risks from processed meat aren’t high, but it’s best to cut down if you can.

3. Maintain a healthy weight (especially if you’re post-menopausal)

Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. After menopause, oestrogen is produced in fat tissue rather than in the ovaries, so women who are overweight have high oestrogen levels compared to women of a healthy weight.

To maintain a healthy weight choose foods that are low in carbohydrates and sugars and those that contain beneficial non-saturated fats.

It’s also important to incorporate regular exercise into your lifestyle. This March, many Aucklanders are kicking off their exercise goals by running the Round the Bays, an 8 km fun run on Auckland’s waterfront, and you can join them.

4. Have regular mammograms

Breast cancer is most treatable if it’s found early, and mammograms are the most reliable way we have to do that.

An analysis of Breastscreen Aotearoa, New Zealand’s free screening programme, over ten years of operation, showed that among women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, those whose cancer was detected on a screening mammogram had a 45% lower death rate than those with cancer detected outside screening (usually through “finding a lump”).

If you’re between 45 and 69, you’re eligible for a free mammogram with BreastScreen Aotearoa every two years. On top of that, we recommend you start paying for mammograms at age 40, and have one each year until age 50, if your circumstances allow you to.

5. Check your breasts once a month

Self-checking is the best way to find breast cancer early if you’re outside the screening age, or in between mammograms, and it’s really easy to do.

Watch this fantastic video featuring Shortland Street star Jacqui Nairn, and set yourself a reminder. Once a month, take the time to examine your breasts, and if you notice anything suspicious, tell your doctor.