Health, Longevity, and the Genetic Lottery

As those who have read my compilation of Fitness Reads for this week know, I got back from a much needed vacation a few days ago. I tend to overwork myself and stress out pretty easily and while I’ve been wanting to learn how to be more relaxed for a while, this trip gave me a much deeper understanding of such things. I came back thinking how nice it felt to be on a vacation and to not be working for an entire week, and how I need to do this sort of thing more often. Obviously this will make me enjoy life as a whole more, but will also mean that I can be a better coach. There is nothing that can put out the fire of a good coach than burnout. Beyond this new comprehension of what a balanced life might look like, there are some other events in my life that have put me pretty deep in thought about health and my own mortality.

About 2 weeks ago I found out that my Aunt has cancer. She is the last surviving member of my Dad’s immediate family. Now, I know it seems callous and selfish, but beyond the sadness this news has brought, this has caused to me think much about my own mortality. Diseases like cancer affect people no matter how “healthy” they are. As my super sciencey sister put it, “Any time a cell reproduces there is a chance it can become cancerous”. This is just the lottery factor of health. Sometimes you can do everything perfect and still develop a life threatening disease.

Granted, eating vegetables, getting adequate sleep, and exercising will certainly reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, but they do not make you invincible to all of the diseases that life can throw at you. That’s just it, you reduce the risk; that doesn’t mean there is no risk, just that doing “healthy” things makes you less likely to develop certain diseases.

And then there are diseases that, as far as we know currently, are either 1 in a million chances or entirely genetic i.e. not relating to one’s behaviors. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I’ve been thinking a lot about what the term “healthy” should actually mean. There are things we can do to give ourselves better odds, but some people just have their genetics stacked against them in this regard.

In my line of work, I tend to just focus on the fitness and nutrition side of things. After all you can’t control luck or your genetics so what’s the point in worrying about what you can’t control? However, there are things we can do to give ourselves the best chance we have with the cards we’re dealt. One thing at least that I will be doing is getting in the habit of having regular doctor visits. As someone who hasn’t been to the doctor in forever because, “I eat veggies and workout so it’s all gravy dude”, this will be a big change.

As for what I want the reader to take away from this post, I’m honestly not entirely sure how to articulate it. There is a lot of perspective and musings I’ve tried to communicate, but I apologize for this post not having a crystal clear focus. What I will say is that our definition of health in the context of the fitness industry ought to be expanded and that we should all probably get check ups more often regardless of how healthy we think we are.

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