Life just isn’t fair.
It’s not unusual to hear of young, healthy, active people that don’t smoke and eat well, suffering from congenital heart attacks or rare forms of cancer, while others who’ve smoked and chugged down bottles of whisky daily live to become centenarians.
While of course these extremes are relatively rare occurrences, there is a growing body of evidence that it is your genes which are by far the best predictor of whether you will surpass four score years and ten, not your lifestyle.1,2
So if the chances of you getting a birthday card from the Queen, still fitting into your favourite jeans on your 40th birthday, or picking up any medals in your favourite sport are all largely determined by your genes, does it really make any difference whether you pick the salmon salad, or the pepperoni pizza?
Should we just leave it all to fate, and see what happens?
Or should we take a genetic test to try to predict our risk factors?
Personally, I would vote no to both of the above.
No Fate But What We Make
At 6’2″ I am much more genetically prone to banging my head on low doorways than my wife who is 5’4″.
This does not mean, however, that I have to go through life constantly smashing my head into low beams – I have learned to duck.
When visiting new places, I have to be more vigilant – when passing through doorways and going up stairs I take precautions. On occasion, my wife has actually bumped her head, where I have not, because she hasn’t developed the habit of having to be aware of the potential hazards.
Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her. But once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.
While genetics may be an accurate predictor of your potential life expectancy or susceptibility to disease, your diet and lifestyle will still always have a powerful effect on your quality and length of life.
Perhaps if you have crappy genetics, even if you eat well and live an active life, your chain-smoking, hard-drinking neighbour will still outlive you. But so what. Life is not a competition with others. If you eat well, keep moving, look after yourself, and enjoy life, you will live a longer, healthier and happier life than you would have done had you not.
Equally, perhaps you take a genetic test, and find that you’re more than likely to live to 100 regardless of what you do. You could choose to eat ice-cream and doughnuts for breakfast everyday, washed down with a gin and tonic, smug that you’re still probably going to outlive your muesli munching mates, but really you’re only cheating yourself.
Yes, you’ll probably live to a ripe old age regardless, but none of those years will be lived to your potential – while you might survive, you’ll never really thrive. You won’t be as strong, fit, or feel as good as you would were you to fuel yourself with the best possible foods and give your body the care and attention it deserves.
It’s no sacrifice
With the conventional wisdom that surrounds health and fitness, it’s easy to see why people would look for answers in a genetic test.
We are told that we are fat because we are lazy and undisciplined.
The remedy is to eat bland health food to be slim, and stay fit by slogging away at boring repetitive exercise.
To make matters worse, this all comes at a price – gym membership, over priced health foods, supplements and expensive training gear.
No wonder people want to find an excuse not to bother!
The conventional wisdom is wrong however.
There is no need to excerise. Find an activity you enjoy – it could be anything from ballroom dancing, to basketball, to slacklining, to martial arts, to yoga. There is no one superior or more effective activity, as long as you enjoy it and it keeps you moving, it’s the best for you. If it’s something you can do with friends and in the outdoors, even better!
There is no need to eat bland boring health food. Learn to cook using real ingredients, and there’s an infinite variety of delicious and nutritious meals out there. Providing you eat mindfully, ensuring you get plenty of fresh fruits and veg daily, along with some nutrient dense high quality animal foods a few time a week, there’s no need to cut out any one “bad” food altogether, count calories, or follow a special or restrictive diet.
Once you’ve found activities that you enjoy, and real food that you love, these are no longer chores, but experiences which enrich your quality of life right now – the fact that they may make you healthier and increase your life expectancy becomes merely a rather fortunate side effect!
1.Scientific American: Live Long and Proper: Genetic Factors Associated with Increased Longevity Identified
2.Longevity More Linked To Genes Than Lifestyle, Research Reveals
3.Why Both Genetics and Lifestyle Matter in the Obesity Epidemic
4.About Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes
5.NY Times: Are You Likely to Respond to Exercise?