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Healthy Habits Can Help Offset Genetic Risk

If health were determined solely by genetics, then what you eat or if you exercise would not matter.

And wouldn’t it be great if healthy habits alone could prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes?

When it comes to staying healthy, lifestyle and genetics are both important factors.

However, recent studies have shown that lifestyle has an even bigger effect on our health than previously thought. Unlike genetics, habits are things you can change, so health care providers are talking to patients about healthy lifestyle improvements.

“Lifestyle changes can have a tremendous impact on our health,” said Brandi Boller, DO, a family physician at Samaritan.

Even small steps can lead to lasting health results.

“Adding a few minutes of walking to your day, drinking more water and consuming less processed food can really add up,” Dr. Boller said.

Dr. Boller often counsels patients about diet, sleep and exercise, as well as tobacco and alcohol use. These conversations are guided by a person’s goals, circumstances and motivation.

“Some people want to feel better, or breathe better or have more strength, energy or endurance,” she said. “Others want to take less medication or increase their longevity and quality of life.”

Prevention and early detection are keys to maintaining health through regular checkups and health screenings. Because there is a hereditary component to conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, care providers pay attention to family health histories.

Having a genetic predisposition to a medical condition does not always mean you will develop that condition. It is often lifestyle that determines whether the illness will manifest. Many chronic, genetic conditions, including diabetes and hypertension, can be reversed with lifestyle changes.

Samaritan Endocrinologist Melanie Jackson, MD, focuses on lifestyle interventions first.

“We see where they are with their health now and help them to see what the next step might be,” Dr. Jackson said.

There isn’t one plan for ideal health.

“With managing conditions like diabetes, the work is on the patient and I’m giving them education and advice,” she said.

Genes do play a role in the risk for many diseases, including heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. But research has shown that up to 80% of heart disease may be preventable through lifestyle changes.

Samaritan Cardiologist Tyler Earley, DO, chose his specialty to help people prevent heart disease. He assesses the risks of heart disease through a patient’s personal risk factors or a cardiac CT. This scan can visualize plaque buildup in the heart, which is used to guide treatment options, such as lifestyle interventions and medicines when necessary.

“Exercise and nutrition are proven to help people live longer and better,” Dr. Earley said.

Samaritan Internist Stacy Braff, MD, transformed her life from “semi‑couch potato” to triathlete and ultramarathon runner. She now helps patients address the root cause of many of their illnesses through lifestyle changes.

“I made some life changes that will likely keep me healthier and prolong my lifespan,” Dr. Braff said. “Whether your desire is to walk around the block without having to stop, improve chronic medical problems, be around to watch your grandchildren grow or even run a marathon, your doctor can help you achieve your goals.”