By Janice Love, MS, Author, Certified Coach
It has been said, “If you want to change your body, change your brain.” I used to believe that my health was predetermined by my DNA and I would ultimately be diagnosed with many of the same illnesses as my parents. I remember asking my mother about our family medical history and soon discovered the presence of health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and diseases of the eye.
Since both my parents were diabetic, it was logical for me to assume that the illness ran in our family. When I expressed concern over becoming a victim of my genetics, my mother assured me none of my grandparents had diabetes. All along, I had believed my parents had inherited the illness and that I was at a higher risk. However, when I looked closer at my parent’s lifestyle, I realized behaviors such as smoking strongly contributed to their health issues.
My professional background is in biological/health psychology. I explain to people that it is the study of how the brain affects behavior and how behavior affects the brain. Much of my studies focused on the brain functioning of alcoholics, and whether their adult children became alcoholic themselves, and how they performed on neuropsychological tests.
The question of nature vs. nurture has been around for centuries and yes, genes do carry some weight in the prediction of our health and well-being, however, our environment, beliefs, and behavior play a much more significant role. In fact, studies in epigenetics suggest changing your thoughts can actually change how your brain communicates with the rest of your body, thereby altering your body’s biochemistry.
Knowing my family history, I made up my mind that I wasn’t born with diabetes, heart disease, or emphysema and I could reduce my vulnerability by managing my behavior. Good choices such as not smoking, exercising regularly and making healthier food choices could make all the difference.
Science tells us when we say what we can’t do, our brain convinces our bodies we have no control and we give up too easily. Rather than giving up based on my genes, I developed the attitude I could change my outcome. Take a look at your family history and decide you won’t be a victim of your DNA. Change your mind and before you know it you will be living a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Janice Love holds a BA in Psychology and MS in Biological Psychology/Health Psychology and is Director of Learning and Development for a local community health center.