As we know from our high school breast health programs, back-to-school time can be a stressful time for parents, teachers, and students. The good news is that it can also be a great opportunity to work new healthy habits into your new schedule. One of the easiest ways to build habits is to use daily activities as reminders or cues for new habits. Habit building gets even easier if the activity, like starting a new class or driving a new route to a new school, is a new activity and doesn’t have any existing habits associated with it. Here are some great ways to work breast healthy habits into your new back-to-school routine.
1. Cement Your Exercise Routine
According to American Cancer Society exercise guidelines, we should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Not only does exercise help reduce your risk for breast cancer, but it reduces stress, reduces obesity, improves your immune system, and decreases cancer-contributing levels of estrogen in the body. Where can you squeeze exercise into your new schedule? Think about walking or biking to school, joining a sports team or club, or stopping by the gym on the way back from school everyday. By starting up these habits at the beginning of the school year, you’ll be sure to stick to them for the long haul.
2. Make Annual Doctors Appointments
Yes, back-to-school time is busy but the holidays are even busier. Now’s the time to pull out the planner, look at your new schedule, and make time for all the doctors appointments that haven’t yet been checked off your list this year. Women over 40, transgender women and men over 40, and men at high risk for breast cancer should make annual appointments for a mammogram. Everyone, starting in their teens (for high risk individuals) or early twenties (for average risk individuals) should get an annual clinical breast exam with a gynecologist or primary care provider. And don’t forget your yearly physical, too!
3. Daily Meal Prep
Good nutrition is vital, not only for breast health but overall health. That’s why we educate people about the role of dietary fat and oversized portions in increasing breast cancer risks. The healthiest diet is one high in fruits and vegetables and low in full-fat dairy and red meat. We all want to have better nutrition, but preparing healthy meals can be labor-intensive and can occur at the time you are most tired or distracted, like after a long day at school, doing homework or grading papers. The trick? Prep your meals ahead of time. Try making a big pot of soup or other leftover-friendly meal on the weekend for your meals during the week. Prep after-school snacks when you’re already in the kitchen. And make time everyday, when you are fresh to make good choices, to make a bagged lunch; not only will your body thank you but so will your budget. For some great meal ideas, see our collection of cancer-fighting recipes, our nutrition switch list, and our back-to-school lunchbox switchlist.
4. Meatless Mondays
If you’re curious about vegetarianism, veganism or just want to make your diet more plant-based, think about adding Meatless Mondays to your new school routine. If Mondays aren’t the most convenient, pick another day. There are a myriad of health benefits to nixing meat and replacing it with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You’ll increase your fiber intake, reduce your saturated fat intake, and likely eat less calories, all which decrease our risk for breast cancer.
5. Breast Self-Exams
For women, men, and transgender individuals, breast self-exams are an incredible tool for detecting breast cancer and detecting it earlier in it’s most treatable stages. Make a new habit of doing a monthly breast self-exam at the end of your monthly period, or if you don’t have one, on the same day every month. Check out our tips of do’s and don’ts for breast self-exams and print out a handy guide to doing a breast self-exam.
Bonus: Bad Habits
For bonus points, consider examining any bad habits you might have that you can weed out of your new schedule by replacing them with something else or avoiding the situations altogether. Alcohol and smoking are both risk factors for breast cancer. And vaping and e-cigarettes are also dangerous. If you’re used to a smoke break on your drive to school or a couple glasses of wine after dinner, try biking to school or making after-dinner time your meal-prep time. A change in schedule and location might be just the thing to break old habits.
Feeling healthy yet? Great! The good news is that while building healthy habits can take a little work in the beginning, once they’re in place, you’re on cruise control. And there’s no better time to create new habits than when you’re entering a new phase in your life or adjusting to a new schedule like a new school routine.