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Heredity Is Not Destiny
Do Health and Weight Problems Run in Your Family? It May Be Habits, Not Genetics

I grew up as an unathletic kid. My mother was unathletic, so she just assumed I was too. You see, our family has weak ankles and no coordination. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that all this was a lie. I wasn't unathletic - I just hated team sports. I discovered I actually had a flair for dance, which takes quite a bit of athleticism and coordination. Weak ankles? Of course they're weak if you don't do anything to build up their strength. A lot of the physical deficiencies that I thought I'd inherited were really born out of laziness and blind acceptance - those were the real deficiencies. Once I worked on overcoming those, my body got stronger and I started enjoying physical activities.

(Article continued below.)

On the positive side, we don't have weight problems in our family. As a matter of fact, my dad's weight is within 10 pounds of what he weighed in high school. Is that due to genetics? Not really. We're just very moderate in our eating habits. More than once I've visited friends whose relatives were on the plus side and found that their meals were also plus sized. What am I trying to say here? Maybe you won't like this, but I'm trying to pull the security blanket called "blame" out of your grasp. It's necessary if you ever want to make any changes in your life. You have to let go so your hands are open to receive new ideas, information and attitudes.

It's a favorite family game to blame genetics for a lot of problems. Weight issues, weak knees, heart disease, fallen arches - if you've got it, chances are so does someone else in your family. People often assume that means it - whatever "it" happens to be - is hereditary. And yes, certain conditions are hereditary. Heart disease and obesity do run in families and doctors do find genetic links. But not always. And there are also times when a family's lifestyle choices can make a genetic condition worse. So before assuming you are destined to suffer from any particular physical affliction just because your father or grandmother did, examine family habits. They're just as telling as genetics.

One of the easiest habits to dissect is eating habits. Every family has its own approach to food, and it is often handed down from generation to generation. What types of meals run in your family? How big are the portions? Does your family serve up hefty amounts of meat and potatoes? Are comfort foods like macaroni and cheese frequent visitors to the dining table? Are there a lot of chips or homemade cookies available all the time for snacking, and do most meals end with a rich dessert? Then it's no surprise if many of your family members might have a weight or cholesterol problem. While nothing can match the taste of your mother's home cooking, you may have inherited some poor eating habits along with the heirloom recipes. Consider creating light versions of those rich recipes, cutting down on those huge portions of mashed potatoes and adding more vegetables to the dinner plate (and to lunch too, for that matter). There are many ways to lean down your menu without completely forsaking family fare.

What other habits run in your family? Do any of your relatives smoke or drink excessively? Do most of them turn into couch potatoes once they get out of school? Any of this is a sure setup for health problems later in life. While it's tough enough to quit a bad habit like smoking (it's really better to never start at all), it may be even tougher to begin a good habit and stick to it. The effort is worthwhile, however - regular exercise lowers your risk of developing, among other things, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. If any of these diseases run in your family, it should be a good incentive to get moving. Exercise will enhance your health, no matter what type of genetics you may have been born with.

Perhaps the most insidious family trait is mental attitude. If you come from a family that, as a whole, presents a youthful, positive attitude towards life, you are probably the same way. On the other hand, if the older members of your family seem to age prematurely, or if they let life drag them down, then it's possible their attitudes are dragging you down, too. A negative mental attitude is one of the hardest habits to break away from - to do so requires a high level of awareness. If you observe your family and yourself for a while you'll realize that you are all talking yourselves into certain behaviors. Someone who blames his aches and pains on "getting old" is actually giving himself permission to have those aches and pains since it is impossible to stop time. If the same person decides to take up Yoga to deal with, say, morning stiffness or minor back pain, he is taking control of the situation and being an active participant in his wellbeing. When it comes to your health - and many other aspects of life - it's important to think actively. To think passively is to give up, to find excuses to be less active, less of a participant in life. We all have limitations, of course, but how do we know what our limits are if we don't test them? And the only way to test them is to first drop your preconceived notions of what is and what isn't.

All of us carry some sort of baggage left over from the atmosphere we grew up in. That doesn't mean you should disinherit your family - you no doubt inherited quite a few good qualities and values from them too - but do disinherit the bad habits and negative mental attitudes that may have been handed down through the generations. No matter where you come from, ultimately you create your own destiny. Taking charge of your wellbeing and your life could even rub off on some of your relatives, creating a legacy you can be proud of.

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