We’re happy to inherit thick hair and sparkling eyes from our family tree, but diabetes, heart disease and other woes? No thanks! The good news: Research from Harvard University proves it’s possible to switch off illness-causing genes — and switch on those that keep you healthy (a process called epigenetics). Keep reading for four ways to prevent disease today.
Outsmart diabetes by strolling with a pal
Moving for 20 minutes every day—and making time to chat with a friend—will cut your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 55%. That’s the word from New Zealand researchers, who say gentle exercise activates pancreatic genes that help you produce insulin. Plus, the happiness boost you get from connecting with friends switches on genes that heighten insulin sensitivity inside muscle and brain cells.
Halt heart disease by tossing a spinach salad
Grandma’s heart disease may have dealt you a gene that promotes plaque buildup in your arteries. But Australian researchers say munching on 1 cup of leafy greens daily could cut heart disease risk by as much as 57%. Explains endocrinologist Rick Prince, M.D., greens are packed with vitamin K, a nutrient that shuts off the troublesome gene.
Dodge depression by lounging in the backyard
When it comes to producing mood-boosting serotonin, one gene (the Tph2 gene) calls the shots—no wonder Chinese researchers say just keeping that gene active cuts your risk of blue moods in half. An easy way to switch on this hero? Treat yourself to 30 minutes of R&R every day! University of Michigan researchers say a daily break from stress switches on the serotonin-producing gene, heightening happiness in 48 hours.
Prevent osteoporosis by choosing seafood
Enjoying three 6-oz.servings of fish or seafood weekly could cut your risk of bone thinning by 60%, suggests research in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. Explains study co-author Tao Lei, Ph.D., fish’s mix of essential fatty acids and minerals switches on genes that encourage the growth of bone tissue.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.