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Can a healthy lifestyle overcome chronic disease?

Last Modified: July 05, 2024

Family Medicine, Diseases & Disorders

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This post was written by Priya Hotwani, MD, PPG – Internal Medicine, Parkview Residency Center.

Many often wonder whether a healthy lifestyle can overcome chronic disease or if our genetic code forever binds us to specific health conditions. There is a powerful interplay between our genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices. Imagine your genetics as a deck of cards. Although you can't control which ones you're dealt, you can decide how to play your hand. Here, we'll discuss how adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly influence and even mitigate the impact of our genetics on chronic disease.

The genetic blueprint

Our DNA is like a blueprint for our bodies, dictating everything from the color of our eyes to our susceptibility to certain diseases. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer often run in families, suggesting a congenital element. However, genetics do not determine your destiny. While we might inherit certain risks, lifestyle factors can influence whether these traits manifest into actual diseases. Even if you have a family history of a particular disease, taking proactive steps toward a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

Changing the game with epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work. Unlike genetic changes, which are permanent alterations in the DNA sequence, epigenetic modifications are reversible. They do not change your DNA sequence but can change how your body reads the genetic code. In other words, epigenetics is like a set of instructions that tells your genes when and how to work. Your lifestyle choices can influence these instructions.

The power of lifestyle

Consider epigenetics as the software for your genetic hardware. Just as software updates can improve the performance of your hardware, positive lifestyle changes can alter the expression of your genes, often turning down the "volume" of genes that predispose you to chronic diseases. Let's explore key lifestyle factors that can help you take control of your wellness journey:

  • Nutrition - A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Adopting whole-food plant-based dietary regimens, like the Mediterranean diet, has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.

  • Exercise - Regular physical activity can be a powerful tool in disease prevention. It can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and improve cardiovascular health, mood and mental health. Studies have shown that even moderate exercise can profoundly reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

  • Stress management - Chronic stress can destroy your body and increase the risk of chronic diseases. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation and yoga can help manage stress and improve overall health.

  • Sleep - Quality sleep is essential for maintaining good health. Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to a host of chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In general, you should aim for 7-9 hours of rest each night.

  • Avoiding harmful substances - Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and substance abuse are major risk factors for chronic diseases. Avoiding these can significantly reduce your risk.

Integrating genetic insights

The future of medical treatment lies in personalized multimodal approaches that consider genetic and lifestyle factors. Advances in genomic testing can provide individuals with information about their hereditary risks, allowing for tailored lifestyle recommendations. This integrative approach offers the best chance for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Final thoughts

Your health journey is uniquely yours. Although certain genetic factors contribute to the likelihood of developing a chronic illness, many of your daily choices are crucial in shaping the conditions that affect your well-being.  

By embracing healthy habits, you can mitigate genetic risks and often prevent chronic diseases. To get started, speak with your primary care provider for help creating a personalized plan that considers your genetic background and lifestyle.

Include a resident physician as part of your internal medicine care team 

The Parkview Residency Center offers the unique opportunity to have a resident physician as part of your care team. Patients with a resident physician as part of their care team have access to:

  • An individualized care plan with oversight by two highly qualified physicians.

  • The latest health information, practices and treatments.

  • Focused attention to help you achieve your health goals, such as understanding your personal test results.

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