Most of us face an avalanche of decisions regarding our health everyday:
What should I eat? What am I doing about my stress? Do I need supplements?
But are we actually making a difference with our choices or are we merely a product of our genetics? We need only look as far as the countless body transformation stories on the internet or the many cases of people beating cancer to see that our nutrition, physical activity, lifestyle, stress, and sleep can all affect our health. Our genetics may determine who we are, to an extent, but we have a lot of control over who we become.
What are genes and what do they do?
Our genes are part of our DNA and act like instructions for our body’s cells; they dictate how each cell in our body works so that we can grow and survive. Depending on whether our genes are expressed can either increase or decrease our likelihood of developing illnesses like heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. However; other factors, such as diet and lifestyle can also affect genetic expression. Trying to figure it all out is like trying to bet on a hockey game – the players, the coaches, the ice conditions, and the fans can all affect the outcome.
Can we change our genes?
We can’t control what our parents give us in terms of our DNA and we can’t really control most of our environmental factors like air pollution or life stressors. Gene therapy, actually changing our genes, is an on the rise option but is costly, time consuming, and still experimental. For the most part we cannot change our DNA, but we may be able to change how our genes are expressed by making better and healthier choices.
What can we do?
Many genetic and non-genetic factors affect our health and we don’t yet know what they all are, or how they interact with each other.
Your heredity can offer you a glimpse into things that may work better or worse for you. Genetic testing is an option for those who want to further explore what their DNA and genome means. Although how much we know about the human genome, how genes are expressed, and what we can actually control or change it is still more of a guessing game than an exact science. Many genetic testing companies have databases and communities that you can search to find people with similar genetic traits helping to uncover what your DNA may tell you about yourself. Nevertheless, be careful when trying to decipher your genome, just because you have gene X doesn’t mean you should do workout Y and eat meal plan A. There is no simple one size fits all plan because we all have a unique genome.
Despite not having control over everything, we can control many parts of how we live. So be your own detective and find what works best for you. Pay attention to yourself and your body instead of what others are telling you to do. Many people wish they could run marathons or simply enjoy jogging but their bodies are just not built for it. Different people respond differently to the same food, so again find what works for you.
The environment that you live in can also affect genetic expression; this includes both physical components like chemicals and intangible components like stress. Take a look around you and consider what you are being exposed to and whether you can improve any of it. Limiting heavy duty cleaners or removing pollutants from the air will have a positive affect on your body. The same can apply if you create a safe, positive, and happy emotional environment.
Healthy habits have just as much impact on your health as your genes do
Paul Bradshaw l Kinesiologist