Don’t let the sand get in your eyes

Is this you?

What do you think is ultimately more responsible for your health, your behaviors or your genes?

According to a just-published study, if your health behaviors are at the bottom of the dumpster, you’re more likely to blame genetics for your health woes. And you are quite likely to give a firm “No, thank you” when offered information about how switching to some healthier behaviors might, you know, improve your health.

Now, there’s no denying that genes play a role in whether we develop cancer, diabetes or heart disease (along with less scary things like height and eye color). But your genes are NOT your destiny.

Come on now, say it with me: “My genes are not my destiny!”

One of the best metaphors I’ve seen for the role of genetics vs. lifestyle behaviors in your risk of developing a serious health problem is this: If you’ve inherited “bad” genes, the gun is loaded. If you also smoke, eat crappy food and adopt remote-control button punching as your main form of activity, then you’ve pulled the trigger.

No one wants to have inherited a genetic link to a potentially life-altering, or prematurely life-ending, disease. But the fact is that for many health conditions, most people who get them don’t have a family history of it. Which means that you really don’t know what genes, good or bad, you might be carrying around (since genetic profiling is not commonplace at this time). So doesn’t it make sense to hedge your bets by living a healthy, active, fit, nutritious life?

Life offers few guarantees. Even if you eat your veggies, go for a walk every day, and shun smoking and fast food, there’s no guarantee you’ll live to be a chipper 101-year-old. But here’s what it will help you do:

  • Lower the odds that you’ll develop certain health conditions, or at least delay their onset.
  • Help you feel better now.
  • Help you feel better in 20 years.
  • Help you look better now.
  • Help you look better in 20 years.

The ways that our genes and our environments interact is a whopping huge area of scientific study. Really, really big. And by environment, I mean food, exercise, stress, exposure to tobacco smoke, exposure to toxins, etc. It may be that some genes are flipped on or off by what we eat or are exposed to. So the more healthy behaviors you adopt as your own, the more you stack the deck in your favor.

So, to quote Michael Pollan: “Eat food.* Not too much. Mostly plants.”

* I would add “not products” and suggest you go for a daily walk, too.