What does it mean to prevent disease? When should we begin? How much is truly within our control? Considering the presence of ova from the time of birth, there is an endless thread through the maternal genetic line that could set the stage for our health based on the behavior, environment, exposure of ancestors before we even take our first breath. And that’s just the biological component.
What about our environment? Every day we are inundated with lists of toxins, do’s and don’ts that seem to change with the moment where yesterday’s best prevention suddenly becomes today’s greatest risk. Is it then futile? Should we bother?
Consider this wisdom from the Dalai Lama:
If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.
What, then, is solvable? Let’s consider the influences of health as lifestyle (51%), biological (20%), environmental (19%) and health care (10%), percentages referencing level of impact. Over which of these do we have the most control?
Biological, perhaps – there is much research leading to advances in the field of epigenetics and our capacity to influence the genetic code we are given. We also are in a time where reproductive choices allow for a degree of selection. While possible, this is certainly not the easiest slice of the pie to change flavor though at 20%, worth our consideration for making choices when possible that favor the ignition of genes favorable for health.
Health care, potentially – at a systemic level there is room for improvement, but the speed of policy change can certainly be slow and largely beyond individual control. At 10% power for determinant of health, this one is best approached collectively, pooling our ten-percents to have a greater overall influence.
Environmental, possibly – as in health care, this one requires a group effort for meaningful impact, though we can certainly do our part. Positive choices for the sustainability of our ecosystem can go a long way. Assessing for compatibility of ourselves with our surroundings – climate and culture in particular – and making choices where we are able to optimize. With influence over 19% of our health, this one seems worth seeking solutions.
Lifestyle, powerfully – holding the majority share of ownership of our health and the most modifiable factors, this category is worthy of an equal measure of our attention. Our habits, our diet, our exercise, our relationships, our work, our stress management – all areas that can be tailored to solve the questions of health and disease prevention. If 51% of our health can be determined by this aspect alone, it is worthy of our action – not worry, which can actually detract from the health – but from a deliberate movement toward solutions.
May we invest our time and energy wisely in the act of prevention, recognizing the areas of greatest potential return for most meaningful impact on our health.