Cancer specialist says these daily habits can cut risk of brain disease

Cancer patient checkup
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Brain cancer and tumours are the most deadly type of cancer for children and adults under the age of 40 in the United Kingdom. Around 12,000 people in Britain are given the diagnosis every year - with only one in 10 expected to survive into the next decade.

But a doctor is warning that a few simple lifestyle changes might drastically lower someone's chance of getting the disease. And they have shared some of the changes they made in their own life to lower the risk.

Dr Sara Meade, consultant clinical neuro-oncologist at The Harborne Hospital in Birmingham, revealed to the Mail Online that she has four daily habits and routines that she prioritises to maintain her brain health. She says they could all be beneficial.

Fresh air and exercise

Dr Meade tries to get outside for some exercise every day to keep the body and brain fit, and for her own mental health. She’s combined this habit with things she genuinely enjoys to make the routine more realistic, such as walking the dog, going for a swim which is her “favourite hobby”, or even simply walking with a colleague to get coffee outside in her working day.

The expert says she does this to boost her immune system, which can bolster its fight in spotting and dealing with cells that could become cancer, according to Cancer Research UK. While the doctor admitted there is “not a specific brain cancer risk to not being active”, exercising can help lower the “risk of all cancer generally”.

Quality sleep

A less-known issue that significantly impacts brain health is a quality sleeping pattern. This is “crucial for a healthy mind and maintaining cognitive function” and while everyone’s ideal length of sleep will differ, Dr Meade focuses on getting enough shut-eye each night so she personally feels “well-rested and can perform at my best”.

A healthy adult should be aiming for around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night according to the NHS. Dr Meade said research hasn’t been able to directly link quality of sleep with risk of cancer, but warned it often goes “hand in hand” with other factors that do increase a person’s risk of the disease.

She said: “‘Those with poor sleep hygiene can often be overweight, have a poor diet, have poor working patterns. ‘It can lead to poor judgment, impaired decision making. After a bad night’s sleep you might lean on things you wouldn’t normally like bad diet choices.”

Managing stress

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance and mental state is key to having a healthy brain, the doctor says. To manage her own personal work stressors, Dr Meade has a strategic daily system in place: “Each day, I plan ahead to manage my responsibilities effectively. This habit helps me stay organised, reduce stress, and maintain a balance that supports my overall well-being.

“Everyone will have different daily habits and routines that work for them, but these are the habits that I find help boost my mental well-being.” A paper from 2022 also suggested there could be a connection between the body’s exposure to the stress hormone cortisol and cancer - while long periods of stress have been definitively linked to high blood pressure and depression, the NHS says.

Although there’s no direct link between stress and cancer, Dr Meade encourages stress management to improve overall quality of life. She said: “It’s all about giving ourselves the best chance. For the vast majority of people there is nothing they have done wrong in their lives to cause it, brain cancer is very often very random and sporadic. But it's about giving yourself the best chance of longevity and quality of life.”

Balanced diet

Dr Meade encouraged: “Healthy eating is a cornerstone of maintaining good health. I believe in the principle of moderation and making good food choices most of the time to keep a healthy balance.” This daily habit also gives her the “energy and focus” she needs for her daily life and help her “body and brain to function optimally”.

She encourages incorporating oily fish for essential omega-3 fatty acids to maintain brain health as well as cutting back on sugary items. Dr Meade did note that there’s no “specific thing” people should eat or avoid to reduce their risk of brain cancer but did say: “It’s all about eating well and maintaining normal weight for general health.”