Whether as an excuse or a commonly held misconception, many people attribute certain negative characteristics to their genetic make-up taking an “I can’t help it” approach. But how much of this is myth and how much is fact.
Many people assume that their weight depends on their height and the characteristics handed down from their parents and although these genetic factors definitely play a part, they are only part of the story.
Studies have shown that diet and eating habits play a much more important part in an adult’s weight and body mass index (BMI). Until middle age, you may find you can eat anything you like and stay at a healthy weight, but once you begin to slow down a bit, as many of us do, it becomes necessary to think about your diet much more carefully.
Cutting down on fat and sugar is a good start, but if you do find that your weight is beginning to creep up, your doctor will be able to recommend a healthy eating plan or refer you to a dietician if you need professional help.
“Use it or lose it” is the phrase to bear in mind here. Regular moderate exercise not only keeps you fit, it can keep you much more supple and less likely to sustain serious injuries through trips and falls. Another advantage of keeping yourself fit is that this often involves some social activity.
Meeting friends at the gym or attending a walking group can be good for you in more ways than you realise.
Stamina goes along with fitness. In the past, people who were used to a more physically demanding life naturally had more stamina than those who have a sedentary job.
We can improve our stamina by changing our lifestyle to include more exercise or possibly taking up a hobby such as gardening that will improve our stamina. Even in retirement, you can improve your stamina by adding some kind of physical exertion to your daily life.
Although some aspects of mental health and disease are genetic, some are due to life circumstances and environment. A person’s risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is influenced by genetic factors, but diseases such as depression and anxiety disorders can be triggered by life events and a person’s ability to cope can also depend on their upbringing and expectations.
Mental health can often be improved by changing the way you think. So called ‘talking therapies’ such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can often help people make positive changes in their lives.
Health professionals commonly ask patients about diseases their family members have suffered and whilst strokes, heart attacks and cancer can all have a genetic component, lifestyle is also relevant.
High cholesterol levels, which can be linked to risk of heart disease, can be reduced by changes in your diet. Diet is also important in many cancers and increasing the amount of exercise you do can help to lower your blood pressure and improve your cardiovascular health. Making small changes can improve your physical health at any stage of life.
Lifestyle plays a large part in the condition of your skin. Spending hours on the beach or under a sunlamp trying to perfect your tan may seem attractive in your twenties, but can result in skin that looks like wrinkled brown leather when you reach your sixties.
Smoking has also been shown to cause wrinkles as well as the smoke being an irritant to the skin; smoking causes the blood supply to the skin to diminish so that the supply of oxygen and nutrients is reduced. Smokers also have less elastin and collagen in their skin. Without proper levels of these proteins skin does not stay tight, soft and elastic.
A good night’s sleep can alter your performance in your daily life. Some people believe that they are genetically predisposed to insomnia but, in fact, there are many steps you can take to ensure that you sleep well.
A comfortable bed, a quiet and dark bedroom and a reasonable temperature will all help, as will banning all electronic gadgets from the bedroom. Some people find that a walk before bed helps them to unwind and relax, whilst others swear by a hot milky drink.
As people get older they sometimes experience memory problems or begin to have other symptoms such as difficulty with language or mood changes.
Whilst early onset Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by mutation in one of the genes and some types of dementia are thought to be genetic, many forms of dementia have no established genetic cause.
Even if you have been diagnosed with dementia, there are steps you can take to improve your quality of life and maintain your cognitive skills. Regularly using your brain can help to keep it active and many people find that completing crosswords and puzzles helps them to stay alert and interested in things around them.
There are many facets of a person that are often assumed to be genetic, but on further investigation, they can turn out to be the result of external factors such as environment or lifestyle.