Your Genetics are not a Life Sentence- How to Mitigate your Risks through Lifestyle

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Many of us have family members who have struggled with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity all their lives and we fear we will have the same destiny. All too often we think that just because these conditions “run in the family” there is little that we can do about them. Luckily, recent research is proving that genetics are only a small part of a much larger puzzle that dictates your future health (or lack thereof).

In regards to obesity, it has been determined that development of the condition is dependent upon many genetic factors and not one single “obesity gene”. Researchers have studied individuals with the so called “obesity genes” and compared them to those that don’t have these genetic predispositions. Their findings show that those individuals with the genetic predisposition for obesity who were inactive were more likely to have a higher body mass index (no surprise there) but, for those who have the genetics for obesity but were active, they were no more likely to have a higher BMI than those without the genes1.

Additionally, a large review study of almost 240,000 subjects found that those who carry obesity promoting genes have a 23% higher risk of obesity than those without them. However, they went on to find that being active lowered this risk. In fact, active adults who carried these “obesity genes” had a 30% LOWER chance of obesity than inactive adults who carry the genes2.

In terms of heart disease, it has been well-established that if you have had a first-degree relative who has had a heart attack before the age of 50, you are at an approximately 33% increased risk of having the same issue. However, we know that with diet and lifestyle choices, we can limit these risks.

According to the American Diabetes Association, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 1 out of 7 (or 14%) if one of your parents was diagnosed before age 50. Your risk increases to 50% if both parents have been diagnosed with diabetes.  But, again, these risks can be neutralized with lifestyle and environmental factors.

From this research, further studies have identified the concept of the “exposome” (or the environment in which your genes live) and have hypothesized that these factors can account for over 70% of your disease risk. These factors include the food we eat, the air we breathe, the stress we experience and even the chemicals we use to bathe with. Scientists are currently studying the effect of specific environmental factors on our genetics and this research is likely going to take quite some time. As we await the results, there are a few things that we already know that will help you maximize your genetics and downplay predisposition to chronic disease. These include:

  • Eat Well

Try to eat the majority of foods in an unprocessed state. That means fresh produce, meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds. If you do choose processed foods, limit how often you consume them, aiming for 80% unprocessed and 20% processed.

  • Limit Chemical Exposure

Our environment is full of chemicals that we are all unaware of and if you tried to avoid them all you would not be able to function.  So, instead of hiding out, do the basics:

– Eat organic when you can, especially for the “dirty dozen”     http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

– Try to avoid eating out of plastic or using plastic water bottles (they leach endocrine disrupting chemicals)

– Read labels on personal care items and avoid parabens, phthalates, Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and triclosan as these have been shown to be skin irritants and disrupt the endocrine system

– Get a good water filter

  • Exercise

30 minutes a day, most days of the week will give your body the signals it needs to stay healthy.  This amount of exercise encourages your cardiovascular system to work properly, along with improving how your bones, muscles and joints function. Sometimes the exercise should be more vigorous to get the most benefit- but this is only needed about 2 times per week. Otherwise, brisk walking and basic strength training is all you need. Also, it doesn’t always have to be done at one time. Three separate, 10 minute sessions per day is just fine!

If you would like help to implement these healthy lifestyle choices into your life, the therapists and trainers at Vita Physical Therapy & Fitness have the training and expertise to help. Our facility offers state-of-the-art equipment in a private, boutique gym setting in the heart of the Third Ward. We look forward to working with you to maximize your genetic potential!

Written by Colleen Baughn, OTR, CES

 

 

  1. Andreasen CH, Stender-Petersen KL, Mogensen MS, et al. Low physical activity accentuates the effect of the FTO rs9939609 polymorphism on body fat accumulation.Diabetes. 2008; 57:95–101.
  2. Kilpeläinen TO, Qi L, Brage S, et al.Physical activity attenuates the influence of FTO variants on obesity risk: a meta-analysis of 218,166 adults and 19,268 children. PLoS Med. 2011;8:e1001116. Epub 2011 Nov 1.
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