©Arlene R. Taylor, PhD     www.ArleneTaylor.org

Want to be healthy and live a long time?
It starts in your brainwhere you lose or win.

articles200408“It’s obviously hopeless,” she said.

“It’s totally discouraging,” he said.

“What you say sounds both helpful and doable,” she said. “But then we recall our parents’ lives and how long they lived.”

“And we end up feeling doomed,” he said.

“We recently read that this generation may be the first in the history of the United States to live shorter lives than their parents. Lifestyle, especially obesity, was cited as the main contributing factor,” she said.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is this: What difference would changing our lifestyle make? Would it really matter?”

Honestly, I tried not to laugh. I really did! But rarely have my office chairs held two such discouraged and pathetic-looking individuals. Instead, I coughed. Twice.

When I was certain not to fall off my chair in uncontrollable laugher, I said, “Please tell me why you two are so discouraged, hopeless, and—to quote you—doomed. Maybe I can help you reframe that perception.”

“My mother died at the young age of 49 from diabetic complications,” she said. “I am 41, and the doctor just diagnosed me with diabetes type II. I figure I have about 8 years to live—if I am lucky.”

I nodded but held my tongue.

“My father died of complications from both prostate and colon cancer at 52,” he said. “I figure that, with any luck, I have about four years to live. I’ve already been told I have an enlarged prostate. You know how it goes, like father like son!” He sighed. “We wanted to live to know our grandkids, but it looks like we may not survive long enough to even see our four children get married. Never mind grandchildren!”

“We’ve been hearing about strategies to help a person stay healthier and younger for longer,” she said. “But, honestly, even if we did change our eating and drinking habits, and used alkaline and hydrogen water, and got enough sleep and more exercise, with our genetic history what difference could it possibly make? We’re doomed, so why bother?”

This time I could not contain my laughter. It just bubbled up. “I understand your fears. In fact, I had similar concerns about my genetics, but guess what? I have already outlived both of my parents and a fair number of aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

“Really!” she said. “How did you...” Her voice trailed off.

“I just saw a news release about how today’s children may  live shorter lives than their parents,” he said. “That is frightening!”

“It is,” I agreed. “Especially for the parents and their children. Some are saying that the children may live as long or longer but are at high risk of spending their older years in poor health.  Either way, it’s ugly. But there is good news!”

Here is the good news I shared:

While human beings are a combination of nature and nurture, these two factors do not contribute equally.

Nature involves genetics: your genomethe genes and chromosomes inherited from biological parents. The genes contain “blueprints” for the building blocks of life. Created from proteins, they include those needed for repair of cellular structures and for the replication of cells. Nature is responsible for about 30 percent of who you are. Many factors, however, influence how blueprints are read, interpreted and implemented.

A factor in this—perhaps the KEY factor—is not genetics (nature); it is epigenetics (nurture).

Nurture involves epigenetics (your epigenome) and encompasses everything that is not genetics, including what happens to you, the choices you make, the habits you develop, the behaviors you exhibit, the stressors you are exposed to and how you respond, your job or career, both your personal and professional relationships—and your lifestyle.

Epigenetics does includes your lifestyle: where you go, what you do, whom you hang out with, what you listen to, what you read, what you watch, the sports you play, and the music you like, what you choose to eat and how much and when, what you drink, and whether you choose to smoke (vaping included) to name a few.

According to research by Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, and Deepak Chopra, MD, epigenetics appears to contribute about 70 percent of how long and how well you live because it includes your total lifestyle. Epigenetics is so powerful that it can even impact genetics—positively or negatively, based on personal choices. More than half of all the strategies that have been found to impact health and aging are factors are within your partial—if not complete—control.  

Your brain and immune system are designed to work hand-in-glove to keep you well and—when sick—help you heal. Together, they constitute the most amazing healing system on Planet Earth—maybe in the known Universe. They are, however, impacted by nature and nurture: genetics and epigenetics. Especially by epigenetics, which includes all lifestyle factors.

“So, you see,” I said, “it is neither hopeless nor discouraging. Unless you stick your head in the sand and leave it there, you are far from doomed! If you become informed, make positive decisions, and work on epigenetics—the 70 percent contributor that includes lifestyle—you both can create healthier futures for yourselves.”

“Actually,” he said, somewhat ruefully, “we have read some articles about how dehydration is linked with dementia and how sleep deprivation is linked with memory problems and the reasons physical and mental exercise are so important. But we’ve been mired in ‘What difference would it make?’ and ‘Would it really matter?’” A bit short-sighted perhaps…”

“More like ridiculous!” she said. 

Since they were both smiling, I decided to have the last word. “Knowledge is power, if you practically and faithfully apply it. Epigenetics is the reason for all the health-related strategies I embrace. The universal human problem, however, has been credited to a rather concise comment by Confucius: It’s not that I do not know what to do; it is that I don’t do what I know. You can make a difference choice.”

“Where are you two in the genetics-epigenetics equation?” I asked. “Starting now to implement researched strategies is not a minute too soon. “

To anybody who might be feeling discouraged and “doomed,” think of the many who love and care about you. Maybe children or grandchildren. Or even future grandchildren. So, time to get cracking. The goal is to raise the bar on your state of well-being as high as possible for as long as you live. By embracing longevity-lifestyle strategies as part of your daily, ongoing choices, you can make a positive difference in your life¾and in the lives of those you love and care about.

If epigenetics matters more than genetics—and it appears that is the case—then it’s worth it.

And that is why you bother!