With all the research going on these days ferretting out genes responsible for certain health conditions, it’s easy to place the blame for your current health problems squarely on the shoulders of your parents—or grandparents or even great grandparents. After all, your genes can predispose you to certain health problems from cardiovascular disease and breast cancer to obesity and diabetes. But genes aren’t everything—and in the case of your health, there are plenty of other risk factors associated with your own lifestyle.
Here’s the short list of what you can do to better your own health, starting today:
Exercise every day1. I know what you’re probably thinking: I don’t have time to exercise every day! But if your doctor gave you a prescription and told you that this pill would fix your current health problem, you’d take it, without fail. Well exercise is just about that powerful when it comes to helping improve (and even prevent) inherited conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Plus, it helps prevent obesity, which is a risk factor for a whole host of health problems. So even if you’ve got a health condition that runs in your family, lace up your sneakers. It may turn out that exercising helps you healthy in spite of your genes.
Lift weights, 2 to 3 times a week. Speaking of exercise, cardio is not the only thing that’s important. Lifting weights helps build bone, strengthening it—and helping to ward off the possibility of osteoporosis, which runs in families. Even if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis), you can still benefit from lifting weights. While there are plenty of videos and books that tout strengthening workouts, I’m still a big believer that the best way to start is to invest in a personal trainer, even if it’s for just one or two sessions. He or she can help you develop a bone-building workout program, either in the gym or at home, that works for you—and can monitor your progress.
If you’re getting tired right about now thinking about all the things you need to do, hang in there with me through the end of this piece. Every single tip listed here has proven health benefits—and will make a difference in your health.
Eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. There’s no question that a healthy diet, rich in key nutrients, is the foundation for a healthy lifestyle that can prevent you from manifesting health problems you’ve inherited. Fruits and vegetables contain key vitamins—like vitamins A, B, C, D, and E—and key minerals—like calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and selenium. Plus, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables has been proven to keep your weight down, which is a risk factor for so many illnesses that run in families.
Take time to de-stress, every day. Whether you’re a fan of yoga or tai chi or love to meditate or just take a nightly bath, finding time to de-stress is critical to preventing disease—whether it runs in your family or not. Stress triggers the production of hormones like cortisol, which—if elevated for extended periods of time—can increase your risk for (and even worsen) conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and asthma. Even if you turn off your phone and sit quietly drinking a cup of tea for just 15 minutes a day, that counts. You don’t need to meditate to de-stress.
Sleep at least 6 to 8 hours a night. This one is difficult for so many of us with busy lives to achieve, but I put it last because if you do the other four things listed above it….chances are you’ll be able to sleep better and more soundly. Sleep is foundation for our health; if you don’t get enough of it, you can increase levels of inflammation in your body—which has been linked to a variety of “inherited” health problems, from cardiovascular disease to arthritis. Exercise, healthy eating, avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m., and taking time to de-stress can all help you sleep better. What can also help? Don’t use electrical devices (including TV, computer, or your Smartphone) for at least two hours before going to bed. Studies have shown that the blue light emitted by these devices interferes with the production of a key sleep hormone, melatonin.
Bottom line: no matter what health condition you’ve got in your genes, taking these simple steps to improve your health—and put them into practice, if possible, every day—will help reduce your risk and keep you healthy for years to come.
Be healthy—and stay strong!
1 Be sure to get your doctor’s okay before starting any exercise program.
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