Balancing bowel health: ways to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer
- November 5, 2021
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When it comes to a healthy bowel, the first thing that springs to many of our minds is eating more fibre. But eating enough fibre isn’t the only thing you can do to keep your bowel happy and help reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
- Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) refers to cancer in the colon and rectum. This is an important part of the digestive system which absorbs water and salts and turns what is left over into solid waste (known as faeces, stools, or poo when it leaves the body).
Bowel cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, but the good news is that it’s also one of the most preventable cancers.
So with this in mind, we’ve pulled together some of the top lifestyle changes you can make today to help improve your bowel health and reduce your cancer risk.
Do more of...
Be physically active
Physical activity is not only good for preventing weight gain, it can also help keep our bones and muscles strong, improve our mental health and help prevent chronic health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Exercise helps to reduce your risk of bowel cancer by speeding up the rate of digestion and helps pass waste through your body more quickly – reducing contact with potential cancer-causing agents.
Aim for at least 30 minutes (vigorous exercise) or 1 hour (moderate exercise) of physical activity every day. However, when it comes to exercise, remember that anything is better than nothing, and more is better!
Being more active doesn’t have to mean jumping straight into an intense program, physical activity of all types is worthwhile - this can include gardening, housework or even a brisk walk with a friend!
If you want a more robust routine, we’ve got a selection of workout plans for every level on our physical activity hub.
Eat more fibre
We’ve all heard that fibre is important for a healthy, regular bowel but it’s not as well known that eating enough fibre may also help you reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
Getting more fibre into your diet isn’t just about eating more All Bran (although this is high in fibre). There are different types of fibre that come from different foods, and it’s good for our health to get a variety of these different fibre types. Good sources of dietary fibre include:
- wholegrain foods – including wholegrain or wholemeal bread, rice, oats and pasta
- vegetables – including legumes like beans, peas and lentils
- nuts and seeds.
If you’re finding it hard to get your 2 serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day, check out our LiveLighter tips.
We’ve also got some great grainy, seedy recipes to help you get more fibre into every meal. Try our homestyle baked beans on wholegrain toast, a chunky chicken and avocado sandwich, or our delicious chickpea curry and rice.
Don't forget to drink plenty of water to help that fibrous food move through your body.
Do less of...
Eat less red and processed meat
Research has shown that eating processed meat and higher amounts of red meat including beef, pork and lamb, increases your risk of developing bowel cancer.
Lean red meats provide important nutrients such iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein, but eating too much can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Aim for no more than 3-4 serves per week (1 serve is about 65g of lean cooked meat).
As much as possible, try to avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham and salami. Not only do they increase your risk of bowel cancer, but they are usually high in saturated fat and salt.
If most of your meals currently include red meat, try to mix this up with some chicken, fish or vegetarian alternatives such as eggs and legumes. For some meat-free meal ideas, check out our tasty selection of meat-free recipes.
Reduce how much alcohol you drink
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing at least 7 different types of cancer, including bowel cancer.
To reduce your risk, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that you have no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day and no more than 10 standard drinks a week.
Find out how much a standard drink really is with Cancer Council Victoria’s new Standard Drink Tool.
To help you take a break from alcohol or reduce the amount you’re drinking, we’ve got a great range of delicious, refreshing alcohol-free drink recipes to make going alcohol-free a breeze.
Being above a healthy weight increases your risk
Research shows that being above a healthy weight is a risk factor for 13 types of cancer. While a lot of people worry about their cancer risk, only about half of people know about the link between being above a healthy weight and cancer.
Find out more about weight and cancer and get information and tips.
Get screened – it might save your life
Early detection is key! Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death in Australia, but if found early, 90% of bowel cancers can be treated.
Most early-stage bowel cancers show no symptoms, so participating in a screening program could save your life.
As part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), Australian adults aged between 50 and 74 will receive a free home screening test in the mail every two years to complete. If you haven't received your test yet or need to request a replacement test, call 1800 627 701 or visit the program website.