Maturing with Time and Evidence: The Updated American Cancer Society Lifestyle Guidelines

Ruth Hennig

July 8, 2020

The ACS Guidelines

Updated in 2020:1

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.
  • Keep body weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life.
  1. Be physically active.
  • Adults should engage in 150‐300 minutes of moderate‐intensity physical activity per week, or 75‐150 minutes of vigorous‐intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination; achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.
  • Children and adolescents should engage in at least 1 hour of moderate‐ or vigorous‐intensity activity each day.
  • Limit sedentary behavior, such as sitting, lying down, and watching television, and other forms of screen‐based entertainment.
  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
  • A healthy eating pattern includes:
    • Foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight;
    • A variety of vegetables—dark green, red, and orange, fiber‐rich legumes (beans and peas), and others;
    • Fruits, especially whole fruits with a variety of colors; and
    • Whole grains.
  • A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include:
    • Red and processed meats
    • Sugar‐sweetened beverages
    • Highly processed foods and refined grain products
  1. It is best not to drink alcohol.
  • People who do choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.

Recommendation for Community Action

  • Public, private, and community organizations should work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to develop, advocate for, and implement policy and environmental changes that increase access to affordable, nutritious foods; provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity; and limit alcohol for all individuals.

See more recommendations from the ACS on their Stay Healthy page.

In June 2020 the American Cancer Society (ACS) released its guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention (see at right). Two of those had more teeth to them than their 2012 guidelines: 

  1. It is best to avoid alcohol completely; for those not avoiding alcohol altogether, they recommend limiting consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  2. Reduce the amount of red and processed meats you eat. The ACS guidelines also emphasize decreasing the amount of processed foods you eat as well as increasing physical activity. 

Most of all, they stress how important it is to adopt healthy patterns of eating and moving, rather than singling out specific foods, diets or physical activities.

They stress how important it is to adopt healthy patterns of eating and moving, rather than singling out specific foods, diets or physical activities.

During the eight years between the 2012 and 2020 guidelines, respected cancer prevention research organizations such as the American Institute for Cancer Research, World Cancer Research Fund International and others have published evidence and guidelines that ACS used to update its recommendations. We are seeing an alignment in diet and physical activity guidelines across organizations. Our hope is this will reduce the confusion for those of you looking to put your money where your mouth is and where your feet trod, run, dance or jump.

I want to also say that a few decades ago, I was an active volunteer and board member of my local and state American Cancer Society. This many years later, I am glad to see this organization refresh and revise their lifestyle-related cancer-prevention guidelines. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was impressed with their outstanding educational programs and innovative cancer-prevention research projects. I was proud of them for putting out such practical, useful programs for the everyday folk who lived in small-town Virginia (where I live) and elsewhere.

I have to smile when I think back to teaching their healthy lifestyle program called “Taking Control.” Thirty-plus years before BCCT listed our 7 Healing Practices, the American Cancer Society was emphasizing taking control of your health through diet, exercise, good sleep, sense in the sun, stress management, avoiding carcinogens, and finding enjoyment. It's like life coming full circle when I realize that what the ACS was promoting then still makes sense today, with the added benefit of time and evidence.

If you want to learn some practical ways to put these and other healthy lifestyle guidelines into your anticancer action plan, check out these BCCT pages:

Let us know your outcomes through the comment box below. We’d love to hear of your success in making any changes, large or small. Share your challenges, too. Perhaps others can help with suggestions or support, which we know is an important part of healing.

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Tag: 7 Healing Practices

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