The extent to which our genetics play a role in our general health is something that has been debated through the ages. Some believe that we are genetically disposition is all-powerful and that there is precious little we can do to change it. Research however has shown that there is more you can do than you realise.

Researchers in a study published in the BMJ sought to identify the decisions most conducive to a life free of chronic diseases. They performed a prospective cohort study which involves tracking groups of individuals who are alike in many ways but differ by a certain characteristic (for example, female nurses who smoke and those who do not smoke) and compares them for a particular outcome (such as lung cancer) for a given period of time.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

The researchers performed this study on:

1. the Nurses’ Health Study (one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women); and

2. the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (a study evaluating a series of hypotheses about men’s health relating nutritional factors to the incidence of serious illnesses).

From the results of this study, it was clear that five lifestyle factors were strongly associated with greater life expectancy. They are:

1. never smoking;

2, maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9;

3. performing moderate to vigorous physical activity regularly (Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. According to the UK’s National Health Services, one way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing. Vigorous-intensity activity, on the other hand, makes you breathe hard and fast.);

4. moderate alcohol intake; and

5. a higher diet quality score.

Photo by Alena Darmel from Pexels

The researchers examined the link between following the above and the life expectancy free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Results indicated that greater adherence to these factors correlated with greater life expectancy free from chronic disease. For example, the life expectancy free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer at age 50 was 23.7 years for women who adopted no low-risk lifestyle factors, in contrast to 34.4 years for women who adopted four or five low-risk factors. At age 50, the life expectancy free of any of these chronic diseases was 23.5 years among men who adopted no low-risk lifestyle factors and 31.1 years in men who adopted four or five low-risk lifestyle factors.

It is clear that you are more than your genetic make up and there are things you can do to improve your physical health and life expectancy regardless of your genes.

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