You can’t change your genes, but you can change your behavior. You can take steps to prevent disease, lower your risk, or find problems early when treatments work best.
Your Genes Are Not Your Fate
We’ve spent some time discussing how and why you should take your family health history. Now let’s talk more in depth about why this information is so valuable and how to use what you’ve collected.
Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the United States, but did you know that many physicians believe we can prevent half of cancer deaths using the information that we know right now? It all starts with a few simple lifestyle changes and of course, your family health history.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not at the mercy of your genes. Even if you are at increased genetic risks for certain diseases, you can have a huge impact on your health by making healthy choices.
The first rule of thumb is to quit smoking. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in men and women, and the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Your risk of developing lung cancer decreases immediately after you quit smoking cigarettes.
Avoiding cigarettes is not only beneficial for you, but also your friends and family. Secondhand smoke in the air, as well as thirdhand smoke, the residue from cigarette smoke that often gets trapped in fabrics of furniture and clothing, have been linked to cancer and other health problems. If you yourself do not smoke, try to avoid coming into contact with second and thirdhand smoke by creating a “smoke-free environment,” in your home and car. Whenever possible, you should also do your best to avoid coming into contact with cigarette smoke in public places such as hotels and restaurants.
Second, it is important to maintain a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables and to get plenty of exercise. We know that you’ve heard this advice before, but we want to reiterate that even these simple changes to your lifestyle can help prevent cancer and other life threatening diseases. They can also improve your ability to fight certain diseases, helping to safeguard your health even if you are at increased genetic risk for a condition.
This Ted Talk from Dean Ornish of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, explains that, while knowing your predisposition to certain diseases is important, it is often because knowing this information allows us to make even bigger changes to our lifestyles than we ordinarily would. These healthy changes can override a predisposition or help make your body strong enough to fight disease should it arise.