One of my undergraduate degrees is in psychology. When it comes to human behavior, there has always been some disagreement about whether nature or nurture exerts the most influence. You know, who gets the blame or the praise, the parents or the child? Proponents of each side can cite numerous studies and statistics to support their opinion, but after decades and decades, the dispute rages on. There is also an age old debate over whether health and longevity are due more to genetics or environment. In other words, is it what we inherit or what we do that matters most? That’s one of those impossible to answer questions like, “Which blade of a pair of scissors is the most important? Obviously, it is the interplay between the two that accounts for the results in both cases.
If I were to rate the importance of these factors based on my observations and clinical experience, I would generally say that health and longevity are 75% due to genetics and 25% attributable to lifestyle choices. That’s the only way I can account for people like George Burns living to be 101 years old while puffing on a cigar, and a person like fitness guru Jim Fixx dying at 51 years of age. In the end, two different people can do the exact same things but end up with totally different health histories and die at different ages, demonstrating the power of genetics. Conversely, you can have two identical twins, virtually clones, and if they do different things they will have a different health history and life span, showing the power of what we do. Whatever the actual percentages are, the reality is we can’t do much about our genetics, except maybe in sci-fi movies. Therefore that 25% I mentioned earlier becomes our 100%, because it’s the only thing we can actually do anything about.
There is a simple process we can employ to help maximize what we do have control over; it’s referred to as the SODA Principle. No, it doesn’t recommend that you drink a bunch of carbonated, sugary flavored beverages. SODA is actually an acronym representing the four pillars of health and well-being.
- Sleep. To stay healthy, your body requires regular down time for rest, recuperation, and repair.
- Outlook. Attitude affects much more than just your expression and personality. Research has demonstrated that a positive outlook actually decreases stress, boosts the immune system, and can lower your blood pressure. So have fun, laugh, and socialize with other happy people.
- Diet. As natural chef, Joy Houston always says, “Eat like your life depends on it, because it does.”
- Activity. Be active, exercise daily, get outdoors. You don’t have to be an athlete, but your body is made to move, stretch, and even sweat.
If you’re still trying to blame everything on your parents, get over it. Your assignment is to write one hundred times on the chalkboard, “Genetics is not an excuse.”
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