A few healthy habits could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC), according to a study published in BMC Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data from 347,237 people in Europe who were followed for 12 years. During that time, 3,759 cases of CRC were diagnosed among the participants. The study authors examined how five lifestyle factors affected CRC risk: healthy weight; low amounts of abdominal fat; regular physical activity; not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption; and a well-balanced diet. This diet was high in fruits, vegetables, fish, yogurt, nuts and seeds, and foods rich in fiber, and low in red and processed meat.

The researchers found that the more of these factors people had, the lower their risk for CRC. Compared to those with none or only one of the factors, people with two healthy factors were 13 percent less likely to develop colon cancer, while the risk was 37 percent less for those with all five healthy factors. However, the association was greater among men than women.

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“Estimates based on our study populations suggest that up to 22 percent of the cases in men and 11 percent of the cases in women would have been prevented if all five of the healthy lifestyle behaviors had been followed. Our results particularly demonstrate the potential for prevention in men who are at a higher risk of bowel cancer than women,” lead author Krasimira Aleksandrova, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke, said in a journal news release.

The findings “provide additional incentive to individuals, medical professionals, and public health authorities to invest in healthy lifestyle initiatives. Each person can contribute a lot to avoid cancer; the more healthy lifestyle changes, the better,” Aleksandrova concluded.


  1. Aleksandrova, Krasimira, et al. “Combined impact of healthy lifestyle factors on colorectal cancer: a large European cohort study.” BMC Medicine. doi:10.1186/s12916-014-0168-4. October 10, 2014.