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Hereditary or Habit?

"Heart attacks run in my family; my dad, grandmother & uncle all died young of sudden heart attacks. It wasn't about their diet, it was hereditary. In the genes, nothing we can do about it"

I've heard that said so many times over the years. I'm guessing you have too.

But, how much truth is in that statement?

When people tell me that their health condition is something that runs in the family so there is nothing they can do about it, I listen with a very skeptical ear. My first question is always to enquire about the diet & exercise habits of their family.

9 times out of 10, the answer is predictable. A standard western diet, meat heavy & fibre lacking with exercise either little more that walking from the home or office door to the car door to maybe a class once a week.

By asking the question, which is often construed as me being 'judgey', which I'm not, the answer is given defensively.

The thing is, health conditions often DO appear to run in families. My question is, how big a part does the eating & fitness habits of the family play in this hereditary health condition?

Is it truly 'genetic' or is it, in fact, 'habit' that runs through the family.

For the most part, as families dine together, whether that be in the home place or out at a restaurant or social gathering, the same members of the same family will, generally, eat the same food, or at the very least, the same 'type' of food. If there are 8 people sat around the table for sunday roast, every person will be eating the same meal. The 'hereditary' part of this then, is the food habit.

If the family likes to sit & snack while watching tv or playing board games, this too is a learned behaviour. A familial habit.

Similarly, the views on how important exercise is will also run in a similar way throughout the same family. If generations of the family consider a walk once a week as being good or enough exercise, this is a habit & a mindset that will continue to run through the generations.

As children, we look up to our adult counterparts for guidance & validation of ourselves, our actions & reactions. It stands to reason then, if the adults in our lives are eating a certain way, perhaps don't have fitness as a priority & have a mindset about what food is good vs not good for us, as a child you will accept that as part of your family culture & take on those values to your own adulthood. These are learned behaviours. Habits.

It's common knowledge now that many of our modern lifestyle diseases can be avoided, & in many cases reversed, through a change of eating & exercise habits.

Think of it this way. If a disease, say for example diabetes, can be reversed, it is therefore not hereditary. It was caused by a lifestyle choice.

By putting a serious health condition down to 'hereditary' causes we are saying 2 things.

  1. We have no control over this health condition

  2. Changing our diet & fitness mindset will not make any difference

The danger here is, instead of looking at the real causes behind these health conditions that have plagued our family for generations, we are simply continuing along the same habitual path with the same dire outcomes. Instead, would it not be better to question the notion of whether or not we really are looking at something genetic over which we have no control, or rather, is this a habit that we actually have 100% control over?

Next time you hear someone make that statement, pose the question of familial habits to them. If nothing else, it will get them thinking too.


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