Health risks are widely accepted as being influenced by two main factors: genes and lifestyle. Many believe that there’s nothing that can be done about genes, and it’s true to some extent. But it’s not the whole story.
Family history and disposition to particular health problems might be the result of genetics, but the genes usually sit there waiting for a trigger to set them into action. This is where lifestyle matters.
You may be genetically disposed to easy weight gain, for example, but you’ll definitely have more of a problem if you throw your hands in the air saying “I’m going to get bigger anyway, so I may as well enjoy cake for breakfast.”
Instead, what would happen to your weight if you exercised a positive attitude and said “You know what, weight gain is so easy for me that I’m going to minimise it by only eating fresh unprocessed foods. I won’t gain weight and my health will be better.”
There are many factors that contribute to an individual becoming overweight. Any one of these alone is extremely unlikely to be to blame; it’s almost always a combination.
- Eating more food than your body needs. This usually is not a stand-alone problem, but may be linked to family habits, environment, health conditions or emotional factors.
- Being inactive. This is a lifestyle factor that is easily changed, one small step at a time.
- This includes pedestrian and recreation facilities, work schedule, oversized food portions, poor access to healthy foods, and food advertising.
- Genes and family history. This includes adopting the habits of your family.
- Health or medical conditions. This includes hormonal issues.
- Some medications cause a small amount of weight gain; further gain is the contribution of other factors from this list.
- Emotional factors. Eating out of boredom, anger, stress etc. This ties back to the first point: Eating more than your body needs.
- Many people gain weight when they stop smoking, but it is predominantly a result of eating more (often lollies) in place of smoking.
- There’s nothing you can do about this one, but as you age your metabolism slows – unless you remain active and minimise this.
- Lack of sleep. This can disrupt hormonal balance and tiredness leads to lower impulse control and poor decision-making.
- People react differently to the same situations, so if you suffer from stress then you need to learn how to better handle negative aspects of life. This may include seeing a health professional for strategies.
Looking at this list, which factors are genetic and which are lifestyle?
Lifestyle and environmental factors can trigger your genes into expressing themselves in a particular way, but it’s clear that genes play only a small role in whether you gain weight.
Some people use their genes as an excuse for not losing weight. Often the reality is that if they control their lifestyle they’ll control their genes expression.