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  • Writer's pictureDan Hahn

Do my genes make me look fat?

There’s a joke that goes:

A doctor tells his patient that after an exam and some bloodwork he found the patient’s blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure are elevated. The patient says: “well diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure run in my family.” The doctor says: “I don’t think it’s that these things run in your family. I know your family and it’s that nobody runs in your family.”

When give too much ground to genetics, we encounter several problems. First the genes we receive are beyond our control. Focus too much on it and we can feel powerless to make a change. Just as we have a little control over where and what time period we were born, we have a little control over what genetic material was passed on to us. However, genetics is only part of the equation for how are lives turn out. Is a complex debate in genetic research, but I would estimate between 30-50% may be preset. Even if that percentage is higher, it’s not worth worrying about, except to motivate you to avoid potential genetic risks. The CDC estimates that one quarter of modern medical problems are due to preventable diseases related to lifestyle choices. This adds up to nearly to $1 trillion annually. Also, it is probably far less common that someone is completely genetically “cursed” or genetically “gifted”. These situations represent the tail end outliers on a statical curve. Most of us live somewhere in between. This means that while we have certain genetic limitations and potentially concerning traits, we also have some helpful genes. There is mounting evidence that good or bad traits can be expressed “turn on” depending on our lifestyle.

Consider two examples:

Two brothers who obviously are very genetically similar follow very different lifestyle paths. One brother eats unhealthily to excess, smokes daily and is very sedentary. He develops obesity, hypertension, sleep apnea and eventually diabetes. The second brother adopts a healthy eating style with a balanced caloric intake, daily exercise and does not smoke. The second brother has no medical problems. What’s the difference here? Lifestyle of course. While both have similar genetic tendencies for the same diseases or problems, certain genes got expressed or “turn on” by their lifestyle choices.

In the second example I know of a successful professional mix martial arts fighter. He is approximately 5 foot come at 9 inches and 160 pounds. He does not have any physical limitations but he is not overwhelmingly gifted with explosive speed, power or strength. Yet he performs at the highest level of the sport. He trains 2 to 3 times a day and lives a healthy lifestyle. Was it his genetics or his discipline and hard work that allowed him to reach this level?

Many people give up even before they start because they think they are predetermined to a poor outcome. The problem is this is likely not true. Also, it allows one to give up even before they put in consistent effort to see what is truly possible.

While there are many and some even fatal genetic disorders, it is more the exception than the rule. I’m not saying they don’t exist. In fact, my mother’s first child died at three months of age from a rare genetic neuromuscular disorder. The point here is that most people live somewhere in the genetic middle where they have a significant ability to significantly impact the quality of their health through their lifestyle choices. While we cannot control genetic inheritance (yet), we can control our mindset and our actions to help express the best of our genes. In the end discipline and consistency win the day. But the reason discipline is difficult to sustain is it requires daily inputs and work which is sometimes tedious, monotonous or even uncomfortable. But the payoffs are ten-fold in terms of living at a healthy weight, having few or no medical problems, less joint pain, having increased energy and feeling truly alive.

Dan Hahn, PA-C

Aura Health & Aesthetics, PLLC

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