Cases of cancer are raising some absurd statistics: some 1 in 3 women will have breast cancer, is the latest I’ve heard. But I’m not here to write about cancer statistics; I’m here to write about why the numbers are so high—and rising—in the first place.
The easiest answer is that the population is aging, and granted, some cases of cancer are likely the result of getting older. But some cases are not, and it seems like diagnoses continue to shock us. “But she was so healthy!” “But he was so young!” Sometimes it feels like cancer is striking out arbitrarily, and anyone could be a target—even the strong, the young—even children.
Sadly, the answer is not a simple one; there is no singular culprit—apart from the very way we lead our lives. Evolutionarily, we’re still quite similar to our Neolithic ancestors in terms of design. Without spoiling anything, we’re meant to wake and sleep according to the sun, to be able to build, hunt, gather, run, and climb all day long, to spend the majority of our time outdoors and be in tune with the cycles of nature. But society has advanced quicker than our evolution so, granted, living like a caveman isn’t exactly practical or feasible. But to completely neglect the natural state of our physiology is to make ourselves targets of self-destruction.
Consider Mike, a middle-aged manager of some business firm. On a typical morning, Mike’s phone sounds an alarm at seven a.m., and he hits the snooze button two or three times before rising and getting ready for work. For breakfast, he makes three eggs, slices up some fruit, and drinks two cups of coffee with Splenda. He has to be in to work by nine, but he leaves at eight because there’s always dense rush hour traffic. Sometimes that’s still not enough time, and he spends the last few miles gripping the steering wheel and yelling at people who cut him off. At work, he takes his seat in his cubicle and works on his computer, where he sits until five, taking two quick breaks and lunch in between. After work, he goes to the gym where he listens to his iPod and runs on the treadmill while watching TV. He is exhausted on his way home, but there is an accident on the road, and he is again stuck in traffic. Finally, he reaches his house, whereupon he showers and heats up some leftovers. He relaxes on his bed to watch his favorite TV show before plugging in his phone on his nightstand, setting his alarm, and going to sleep to do it again the next day.
This is the familiar story of a day in the life of the average American, perhaps one of even above-average health. But it’s average people who are coming down with cancer. Here’s why.
First and foremost, I’d like to point out the preponderance of blue light we are exposed to. This is the radiation given off by most of our technology: iPods, televisions, computers, digital clocks, fluorescent lights. In an increasingly digitized world, blue light is constantly surrounding us. It stimulates the “awake” part of our Circadian rhythm (what regulates our wakefulness and sleep), but constant exposure to this is thought to be implicated in rising rates of insomnia, anxiety, cancer, and a host of other ailments (I invite you to read Max Strom’s There is No App for Happiness for more information on this).
Sleeping with a phone next to your head, particularly a smart one, exposes you to hours of radiation every night. Not to mention the teens and pre-teens and yes, even elementary school kids who carry cell phones around everywhere with them like an extra appendage. These things give off signals—GPS, cellular, and more—and it explains why there has been a preponderance of new cases of brain tumors found just above the right or left ear. Hands-free Bluetooth, anyone?
Let’s now turn to Mike’s diet. It sounds pretty healthy, right? It would be if it weren’t for the fact that the most commonly distributed, sold, and consumed food stuffs are all genetically modified, laden with pesticides, enhanced with artificial colors and sweeteners, or injected with antibiotics. Our food isn’t food anymore, unless you take scrupulous time to read the labels. But that’s Food for Thought for another article 😉
Waking up isn’t easy for Mike, which is why he hits snooze so many times. So maybe he’s not a morning person…but does that really exist? Humans are naturally designed to be rise with the sun, as it gives off blue light (this is in addition to ever-growing exposure to blue light in the modern world). If a person gets sufficient hours of quality sleep per night, the daily alarm will cease to be a torture sentence. As for the commute to and from work, sometimes traffic is unavoidable, and while nobody likes sitting in traffic, it seems almost an expectation that we get stressed and angry while in it. If we let it, the stress will cause our bodies to tense, our blood pressure to rise and breath to quicken. Try to consciously relax the body and slow the breath. Listen to books on tape or make playlists with favorite songs. Hell, do some mental math.
After Mike arrives at work, he sits, and for many of us, this is an inevitable aspect of our jobs. Get up often to stretch (especially the front body) and walk around. Step outside for a few minutes. Try replacing the desk chair with a ball so at least some muscles are being used while sitting. During lunch breaks, go for a walk or eat outside. The human body was not designed for a sedentary lifestyle. Envision again the daily life of a cave man.
Back to the story. After work, Mike works out. Super. The only problem is that his workout is yet again indoors, surrounded by the sounds, distractions, and radiation of fluorescent lights, loud music, talking heads on TV. All these different, loud vibrations everywhere can stress us out over time, get us wired up, distract us from what’s going on inside our own bodies. Take the workout outside every once in awhile. Try leaving the iPod at home. Though it may not be easy at first, it’s simply a matter of acknowledging an attachment to it and breaking a habit.
The only other thing I’d like to add here is falling asleep in front of the TV. This again goes back to the blue light phenomenon, but it’s especially important before bed. Exposure to blue light and stories or news that may elicit emotional or intellectual responses will keep the brain alert. Not only will falling asleep be harder, but the quality of sleep will not be as sound, either. And please, people, don’t fall asleep with your phone next to your head.
- Spending too much time indoors, surrounded by bright, loud, distracting technology
- Attachment to our phones, iPods, televisions, and technology as a whole
- Quality (and quantity) of our “food”
- Quality and quantity of sleep and rest
- Sedentary lifestyles
It’s no wonder we are a population addicted to coffee! How else would we possibly keep up with such fast-paced living? In developed countries, particularly the United States, there’s an expectation to live this lifestyle, and as such, many jobs make it pretty hard to step away from. Don’t get distracted by it. Open your eyes to these things around you every day, and you can make a conscious effort not to let them dictate the way you live your life. Cancer a result of neglecting the natural design and needs of our bodies from a purely scientific and evolutionary standpoint. My suggestion? Think like a caveman.
Note: I didn’t mention prescription drugs here, as it’s a complicated issue so I saved it for a different article, Prescribing a Paradox. But I do believe that overuse and over-prescription of drugs (yes, that includes alcohol and caffeine!) is a major contributor to rising cancer rates, as well.