My Genes Are Not the Boss of Me!

cancer cell

After I was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer seven years ago, I had a little freak out. On the one hand, I was reassured that if I was to have cancer, thyroid cancer is the kind to have. It’s relatively easy to treat and highly curable. Okay, that’s great. However, if I had cancer, doesn’t that mean at some point something went haywire at the cellular level? Why didn’t my healthy cells kick those cancer cells to the curb? If it happened once, isn’t it more likely to happen again, somewhere else like my lung, my breast, or my brain? I’ve been told it’s not, but hey, I’m not taking any chances.

My cancer diagnosis changed my attitude toward my body. That wake up call is the driving force behind my work as a health and wellness coach. I want others to understand that when it comes to the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and obesity — our health is largely up to us. I don’t know what caused my cancer, but I do know our genes are not the boss of us! The way in which we take care of our bodies can determine which genes are expressed. If our parents are obese, we probably have that propensity, but it’s only a factor in the equation. It’s not our fate.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack at age 40. It happened at a time when medicine was just making the connection between diet, exercise and cardiovascular health. I remember hearing that my grandmother – a wonderful cook – changed up some things in her kitchen, especially replacing butter with margarine. My grandfather lived another 30+ years, so her efforts obviously paid off. By the time their son, my father, was 40, he was dedicated to regular exercise and has always maintained a healthy weight. His actions were a direct response to what he feared his genes might have in store for him.

Angelina JolieIn the case of Angeline Jolie, who carries the BRCA1 gene and opted for a double mastectomy to diminish her chances of developing breast cancer, I sincerely hope she combined that decision with a commitment to a chronic disease-bashing lifestyle. Last interview I read, she was tucking into a juicy steak and red wine, so maybe not.

We tend to get stuck thinking our health is predetermined by fate, the quality of our healthcare, or our genes. Don’t forget that WE play the most pivotal role in determining our health. Food is medicine. Choose mindfully what you put into your body. Sleep balances your hormones and restores your willpower. Get plenty of it. Exercise boosts your immune system and promotes cell turnover. Make it a regular part of each day.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and ExerciseSounds so simple, doesn’t it? Sometimes we need to reinforce what we “know we should be doing” with some current information that can make this all come together to form a pretty darn compelling picture. The support of a group helps too. And we could all use some effective tools to help us figure out how to make these changes in a way that they will stick.

If you’re nodding your head to any of this, please check out my upcoming online workshop – Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. It starts in nine days, and has the tools, the group, the support, and the information. Please join me!


NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

I was pretty excited when I first heard about NEAT. Intuitively, I know that most lean people move more. They seem to have energy to burn, and they do so by moving, often. Now research confirms that any movements throughout the day really do add up in terms of calories burned and can have a big impact on your health and weight. Most of us strive to include some structured moderate to intense activity several times a week—I think we call that “exercise”–yet increasing the non-structured movement WILL make a difference for every body.

There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.Endocrinologist and researcher, Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, developed the concept of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). He found that healthy individuals can burn up to 700 calories per day through NEAT. He also found that obese people perform drastically less NEAT, even when compared to normal-weight people who don’t exercise and have similar, sedentary jobs. As the world has modernized, NEAT has declined, which is clearly a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. Since being sedentary is a strong predictor of death and disease, the less sedentary you are, the more health benefits you will see. Now that you know what a difference a little movement can make, here are some ideas on how to incorporate more NEAT into your day.

Move At Work – Pace while you talk on the phone. Schedule a walking meeting. If you work in an office building, take the stairs. If you sit at a desk, sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. Walk with a co-worker on your lunch break.

Drink More Water – Besides the obvious benefits for your body, more water means more peeing. It’s a built-in walk to the bathroom every hour or two.

Never Stand Still on an Escalator – Make it a rule.

Park Farther Away – You’ve heard this before, but try to make it a habit. It may require a change in mindset since most of us are on the lookout for that perfect, close parking spot.

Fidget, Stretch, Stand Up – Take a break during long bouts of sitting, especially on airplanes, in movies, long meetings, and car rides.

Keep in mind, it all adds up – a lot!


James Levine, M.D., Ph.D. – Transform 2010 – Mayo Clinic, September 24, 2010

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – It’s NEAT!, from the blog Summer Tomato by Darya Rose, Nov 8, 2010, with guest blogger Travis Saunders of Obesity Panacea