We’ve all known people who have thought of themselves as having “good genes.” Their relatives may have lived long lives, or maybe had beautiful skin. Does that mean that some of us have “bad genes?” If you find yourself in the second category, this only suggests a potential, not a given, that you could develop the same kind of health issues.
Even if a condition like heart disease or type 2 diabetes runs in your family, it turns out that you can do a lot to break the pattern, because your choices and lifestyle make a huge difference. While it’s true that some genes lead to disease, for most people a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk. Your daily habits — such as what you eat, how active you are, and not smoking — strongly affect your health. Those are up to you, no matter what’s in your family’s medical history. Of course, the sooner you take on healthy habits, the better. But research shows that even if you’re already in your 60s or 70s, it’s not too late to start!
There have been a number of theories proposed as to why we age. One is known as the “oxidative stress theory,” which is the idea that free radicals form when cells are exposed to oxygen and damage tissues. Research suggests that a diet rich in the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables lowers the risk for some types of cancer and slows down cognitive decline associated with aging. Interestingly, exercise seems to make cells more resistant to free radical damage.
Another more recent theory is that aging is a failure of “autophagy.” Autophagy is the process cells use to clean up cellular “junk.” Some people simply have a better clean-up system than others, but diet does appear to be a factor. Diets high in sugar and fat seem to overtax a cell’s clean-up system and accelerate aging.
Knowing your family’s health history of the diseases and conditions that your family has experienced may give you information about potential issues with your own health. Your family genes make up your DNA, and information can help you become aware that you may become predispositioned for some health concerns. It doesn’t mean that if you had a parent that had diabetes, for example, that you will definitely get it. Your risk factor will be different depending on other genes that you have and your lifestyle. Regular check ups with your doctor and early detection of diseases increase the odds of a successful outcome of many medical conditions.
While there’s still a lot that we don’t know about aging, certain lifestyle habits like exercise and a diet of whole, unprocessed foods seem to lower the risk of a number of age-related diseases. Lifestyle matters when it comes to your health and how rapidly you age.