For as long as I can remember heart disease and impending heart attacks were ever present in my family's life. You see...my father had his first heart attack at age 36. When I was just 4 years old. It became deeply embedded in my mind and my body that heart disease could be my fate. In my early 20's I started to work in healthcare and see the chronic illnesses that were linked on some level to lifestyle choices. At that time we thought our genetic makeup had more of an influence on our physical bodies expression of health. We now know it really only represents about 30% of what happens to us. The world of epigenetic's helps us to understand that we have more control over what happens in our bodies that we ever thought before. Epigenetics can simply be defined as the bodies ability to turn on or off our genes based on our lifestyle choices, what we expose ourselves to. If you are interested in a more scholarly article about the word and history of epigentics read this article.
So… needless to say the way we live our lives and the choices we make have a significant impact on our health outcomes. In one way this is very empowering , to realize that we have more control than we once thought. On the other hand it now makes us responsible for living day to day in a way that supports our health and addressing habits they may not be in our best interest. That is not easy right? Behavior change and habit change even if we know it is in our best interest long term is THE hardest part of life.
For many years when coworkers or friends would ask me things like “do you actually like what you’re eating or are you eating it because it’s healthy?” many times my response would be “I’m just trying to avoid a heart attack”. To make light of it and not to get into a philosophical argument about my eating habits or any other habit of mine. As time went on and I became more convinced of the importance and the significant research supporting healthy habits in terms of avoiding chronic illness I would say “it’s a little bit of both in reality”. I like what I am eating and I feel good about the fact that I am doing something good for my body.
The reality is that at this point in my life after a good 25 years of focusing on healthy habits (and a few unhealthy things sprinkled into the mix as well because none of us are perfect right?) I have no evidence of heart disease. My cholesterol has always been at a good level, my cardiac calcium score (read here if you want to know more about this very important test)is “0” which means no detectable calcification in any of the three major arteries leading to my heart and BP is always at a great “lower than average” level. I’m not telling you this to brag, quite the opposite, but to provide an example of someone who could have been at risk for a cardiac event at my current age of 51, who has no evidence of heart disease. I am genetically and feature- wise very similar to my father. I look like him, my body type is more consistent with his. Now, you can argue that maybe my genetics are more similar to my mothers and she didn’t have her heart attack until she was 69. Yet, if she had a CT for her calcification score in her 50’s you would have likely started to see some plaque build up that could have led to arterial blockage that was the cause of her heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery.
Here is the message…. HEART DISEASE, DIABETES, OBESITY, NON-ALCOHOLIC FATTY LIVER DISEASE…I could go on…are all preventable with lifestyle changes. You don’t have to suffer with these chronic illnesses. Even more than that, many symptoms and illnesses are preventable by taking control and changing things one step at a time.
If all you do after reading this is start to get out and move a bit more, drink more water and eat more vegetables you’ve started to make a shift. Every little action on a daily basis is a vote for the person you want to be.
Who do you want to be?