Leader comment: The secret to long life is in our hands

It is an astonishing figure: more than four out every ten cases of cancer in Scotland could be prevented if we made relatively simple changes to our lifestyle.

Eating processed meat like bacon and sausages has been linked to an increased risk of cancer (Picture: Getty)

It is an astonishing figure: more than four out every ten cases of cancer in Scotland could be prevented if only we could make some relatively simple changes to our lifestyle.

They are mostly the sort of things we all know we should or shouldn’t be doing – eating a healthy diet with more fibre and less processed meat, not smoking, drinking less alcohol and getting a bit of exercise.

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Yet somehow we seem to find excuses. I’ll just jump in the car to go down the shops, the lift is quicker than the stairs, just one more won’t hurt, we say to ourselves. But it’s never really just one, is it? Add it all up and it comes to 13,000 cases of cancer ever year in Scotland and 135,000 across the UK, according to Cancer Research UK.

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But just how much do we actually enjoy the things that are making us seriously ill and killing us? By living an unhealthy life we are knowingly cutting short our own existence, missing out on potentially wonderful experiences and robbing our nearest and dearest of our company. Life should be for living.

While we can make many of the suggested lifestyle changes to avoid cancer as individuals, others require a bit more effort from society as a whole. Air pollution, for example, causes more cancer cases than a lack of exercise, according to the figures, while occupational exposure to hazardous materials like asbestos is the fourth biggest preventable risk factor, showing the benefits of often-maligned “health and safety” rules.

Switching to a healthier lifestyle can seem like a daunting task and – as we all know from making new year’s resolutions – it is easy to backslide on promises we make only to ourselves. But, as groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have demonstrated, gaining moral support from other people is hugely important. So, if you are trying to exercise more, do it with a friend or join a club. And if changing our own lives is daunting, then creating a healthier environment is even more so. But, again, we can achieve great things when we work together. The switch from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy is already underway, but we should make sure it happens as quickly as possible.

Cancer Research UK’s startling figures hold out the prospect of a glittering prize: the chance to live a happier, healthier and longer life. We should be doing everything that we can to ensure everyone in Scotland has the chance to grab it.