Is this not cute?! Admittedly, I am biased. The big guy is my husband Peter, and the little one is Peter too (“Re – Pete”), his grandson. This picture is now my screen saver. It makes me smile every time I sit at my computer, which is often.
Ah, the magic of genetics. No one else in the family inherited my husband’s “elf ears” – notched and pointed (and, yes, they do stick out a bit). When he was about 7 years old, his father told him they could be “fixed”, and he remembers never having thought about how they protruded . . . until then. He never did “fix” them – good thing, because they are perfect as is.
Just like Little Pete’s.
Genetic effects on health are arguably even more interesting than general appearance traits like the color of our eyes or the shape of our ears. As researchers look beyond the mere sequencing of our genes to more complex dynamic factors that interact with genes to either turn their activity on or off, it becomes even more obvious that lifestyle indeed does matter – a lot.
The food we eat is one of the most obvious ways of controlling the action of certain genes that affect our metabolism, ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, etc. In other words, we are now learning through research on gene activity how poor eating increases risk for diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health issues. That gives all of us much more power over our health than we ever dreamed possible in the past.
Exercise is another lifestyle factor that helps to keep our genes behaving in a way that promotes good health. Amazing changes take place not only at the level of blood lipids, blood pressure, and body composition, but also at the level of gene activity. I find this absolutely mind-blowing! And exciting. (See the recent report of a study done in Sweden – “How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells”.)
You and I can actually encourage our genes to “do the right thing”. As if that is not amazing enough, a relatively new area of scientific study called epigenetics examines how many of these changes in genetic activity are actually passed down to offspring. Wow – that’s what I say. It just doesn’t seem to make much sense for anyone to assume that we are genetically destined to be unhealthy. That is very good news for all of us.