It’s common knowledge that issues like heart disease and cancer can run in families. If your father, uncle, and grandfather all developed the same problem, say high blood pressure, then you may be at a higher risk for the same thing. Does that mean you’re fated to repeat history? Not at all. Genetics plays a big part, but that’s not the only factor to consider.
Family history also influences life choices like diet, smoking, and exercise which tend to become ingrained habits developed over a lifetime. Heart disease is far more likely to manifest in families who prefer couch surfing to wind surfing and meatloaf over grilled chicken.
The combination of heredity and lifestyle is a powerful predictor of your future health. That’s why a comprehensive medical family history is important. It can also give you the incentive to make changes in your lifestyle that will carry on to your children and lessen their risk for inherited disease.
Your medical family tree
Start by listing any health issues you have had. Some common inheritable conditions include high cholesterol, cardiovascular and heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Also include mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
If you’re close to your parents, you may already know your immediate family’s medical history. If not, start asking questions. Try to find out what kind of issues run in the family. Someone in every family has a wealth of information and knows where every family is buried…and why. The more you can learn, the better you’ll be able to see health patterns.
It’s also important to note the age when relatives first became ill. Heart disease after age 65 is less alarming than a heart attack in a 40 year old.
With your medical history in hand, take a hard look at your lifestyle. List any lifestyle factors that may influence your genetic predisposition to disease.
- Do you smoke?
- Drink more than one or two alcoholic beverages per day?
- Do you exercise regularly?
- Are you overweight?
- Are you under constant stress?
- Do you get enough sleep?
- Do you eat a healthy diet?
What to do next
If your family medical history and lifestyle put you in a high risk category for disease, you have some changes to make. First, get a comprehensive blood test to check for things that may already be going wrong. A combination of medication, lifestyle improvements, and monitoring can greatly decrease your chances of suffering the family fate.
Ok, there’s no single thing known to cure or prevent every disease, you know that. But there’s one thing that improves almost everything about your life: exercise. Exercise relieves stress, lowers cholesterol, improves cardiovascular function, lowers your risk of diabetes and helps control your blood sugar if you already have diabetes, lowers blood pressure, and helps you get a good night’s sleep. And as a bonus, if you set a good example for your sons, chances are they’ll value exercise and a healthy lifestyle as well.