I study people who heal from cancer against all odds, usually after their doctors have sent them home saying there’s nothing more to be done. My decade of research on these incredible survivors is summarized in my book Radical Remission. But today I want to talk about one thing these survivors have in common: taking action.
Across the board, these cancer survivors made a shift from being passive about their health to being incredibly active. They went from being “good” patients who simply did whatever their doctors told them to becoming empowered patients who read up on the latest research, requested copies of their lab results, and sought out second opinions. In other words, they became the CEOs of their own health.
Take Shin, for example. Shin Terayama was a Japanese businessman who was diagnosed with kidney cancer at the age of 48. He did everything his doctors told him to do, including surgery, chemo, and radiation. Unfortunately, none of those worked, and he was eventually sent home for hospice care.
That’s when he started taking action. He began with simple baby steps, such as drinking filtered water and watching the sunrise every morning. As the months went by, he eventually changed every part of his life—from his diet to his stress levels to his spiritual practice. Three years after they sent him home for hospice care, Shin’s doctors couldn’t find any evidence of cancer in his body. Today, he is alive, well, and still cancer-free 28 years later.
How did he do it? Of course, this is just one story, and while we may never be able to prove exactly what caused Shin’s remission, studies suggest that people who take control of their health—including their physical, mental, and spiritual health—tend to live longer.
For example, researchers have found that cancer patients who feel helpless die sooner than those who feel that they can do things—even little things—to help their mood, comfort level, or immune system.
Here are some ways you can start taking control of your own health and shift out of helplessness into action:
1. Read the latest scientific research.
Knowledge is power, and a great place to gain knowledge is PubMed.gov. Known as the “Google” of medical journal articles, this site allows you to stay on top of the latest research.
Try typing some simple words into the site’s search bar, such as “cancer yoga,” and voilà! You’ll be able to read the latest studies on how yoga can benefit cancer patients.
2. Maintain an active lifestyle.
The evidence is clear: Sitting at our desks all day is killing us softly. The good news is that movement is the easy answer. One 2007 study of breast cancer survivors showed that exercising 30 minutes a day, along with eating a vegetable- and fruit-rich diet, cut their risk of dying in half.
3. Fill up on nutritious vegetables.
Sugary foods may taste better than vegetables, but they won’t help you live longer the way carrots do. For example, this study showed that eating carotene-rich vegetables leads to a significantly longer life span.
4. Practice stress management.
When we feel stressed, we stay in “fight-or-flight” mode, which means our immune systems get suppressed. Try shifting into “rest-and-repair” mode with a six-week stress management course, which has been shown to increase your immune system’s natural killer cell activity.
5. Keep laughing.
Decades of research have confirmed the age-old saying, “Happy people live longer.” When was the last time you belly-laughed? Try to do it at least once a day. YouTube is always good for a quick fix of laughter, whether it’s watching silly pranks or cute cat videos.
Absolutely fascinating things happen to your body when you meditate. You produce more melatonin, which helps you sleep better. You produce more antibodies, which strengthens your immune system. But perhaps most fascinating is that meditation can help you turn off disease-promoting genes.
7. Get help.
Some people can make lifestyle changes quickly and easily while others may need some hand-holding. Try signing up for a local exercise or meditation group for some in-person accountability. Or consider taking online courses (I recently launched one of my own) about how to take control of your health.