Recently I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
Me: “Hey buddy! How are you?”
Friend: “I’m well, thanks! And…look at you! You look really healthy and fit!”
Me: “Well, yeah, thanks. Frankly speaking I’ve been working out, exercising, you know, a good diet, a healthy lifestyle…”
Friend: “Lucky you! You see (pointing at his belly)…I’m running almost every day, skipping lunch to reduce the number of daily calories, cheating meals allowed only twice a week…but I’m still “round and heavy” and this is only because of my genes: my father is fat, my grandpa was not so fit either and so am I now. I just can’t do anything about it!”
Conversations like the one above are not uncommon, but…
Is my friend’s concern really founded?
The old days, when we humans practiced “fight or flight” (i.e. gathering food just to survive and running away from becoming food for other animals), have passed. We are now, more than ever, becoming“Sedentary Sapiens”, with our fingers being the most active parts of our body, swiping touchscreens or typing on keyboards.
While we may think that family history and predisposition play a big part in our health and size, research shows that this is not always the case. Take a look at the chart below:
As the chart shows, genetics influence the overall health and fitness of our bodies only about 15% of the total, while the lifestyle choices (the ones that are really “in our hands”) are able to influence our overall wellness, radically impacting our lives more than 50%.
And this is not the whole story yet.
Approximately 20% of our overall health and fitness is influenced by our environment. In other words, external inputs (i.e. stress factors, surrounding ourselves with unhealthy people and friends etc.) are playing a fundamental role in our well being. As we look at the chart, we can put that 20% for environment under our influence and choice.
Yes, we can control and influence more than 70% of our health if we start summing up the choices we make with our lifestyle plus the ones impacting our external environment.
Having said this, there is still a minor percentage, approx. 15%, that is due to genetics as we said above (imagine predisposition to high blood pressure) and 10% linked to the health care coverage that we can or cannot afford. But still, we are responsible for the remaining part. Conscious choices to be active and healthy will only add benefits and positively influence your overall life.
Is that really all? Looking ahead…
…there is still much more to gain. Recent studies have revealed that our brain is not unchangeable (or “static”) as theorized in the past, but there is always time to change, or “tweak” it, also in adulthood. Applying “neuroplasticity”, also known as “brain plasticity” (a term that describes the possible changes in a human brain in the course of life), scientists have discovered that, as the body (and the overall health of it) is influenced by the brain, the latter can be influenced by the former, when healthy choices are made consistently. In this case, through various techniques that include the use of EEG (Electroencephalography) and FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) it has been discovered that the body can influence, and finally change, the brain functions, assisting it in the creation of new connections between nerve cells (synapses) and so improving the overall brain performance. Is that all? Not really. Biofeedback (a technique that can be used to learn to control the body functions) and meditation can do more than that, apparently.
In a 2014 study, the use of mindfulness meditation was shown to have an impact on certain types of DNA in breast cancer patients. Without being too technical, the length of telomeres (a sort of protective cap on the end of chromosomes) was physically altered as the result of this type of meditation.
And so, what does it really mean?
Keep it simple: remember the 15% plus on the pie chart above due to genetics? Well, apparently there is a chance for the lifestyle (the 50% or more) to have influence and power on it. With a holistic approach to life and wellness, taking care of the body but also of the mind, we could increase to more than 90% our potential influence on our health, fitness, wellness and everything related to that. Virtually, we are empowered to become in charge and control how we live our life on Earth. Is that easy? Not really.
It does require willpower, knowledge and instruction, and perhaps guidance (i.e. professional coaches), but, in the end, it’s feasible and doable for everybody, including my dear old friend who is still stuck blaming his family history.
Manlio Lo Giudice is an Italian mechanical engineer, professional Health and Safety manager and passionate blogger. Manlio is working towards becoming a professional blogger, entrepreneur, biohacker and professional lifestyle and holistic coach. He is currently developing his own blog on www.theholisticexperiment.com.