6 Ways to Switch on Your Healthy, Happy Genes

6 Ways to Switch on Your Healthy, Happy Genes

Ready for the DNA do-over guaranteed to keep you slimmer, happier and protected against cancer, heart disease and the common cold? No test tubes required—all the equipment you need is in your kitchen, closet, bedroom and gym bag. And we’re here to tell you how to put this hot health development to work today.

We’re talking about epigenetics. Epi-WHAT? Epigenetics—your epic ability to assert control over your DNA by switching genes on and silencing others. And while you can’t change your basic genetic code (DNA), you can make the best of what you have by changing your gene expression or what gets turned on and what gets turned off.

This new science is getting plenty of attention in the media with headlines like “Reprogram Your Genes” and “How to Hack Your Own DNA” and in scientific journals, too. There have been more than 10,000 research papers on epigenetics published in the past 10 years.

We’re offering you six strategies that are proven to give your DNA a do-over -- and you’ll find plenty more in Dr. Mike’s new book THIS IS YOUR DO-OVER: The 7 Secrets to Losing Weight, Living Longer, and Getting a Second Chance at the Life You Want. For now, let’s start your genetic reboot.

Eat less saturated fat. Fatty meat, butter and high-fat stuff like cheese, whole milk, ice cream and plenty of processed foods deliver a big dose of saturated fat that, it turns out, switches on genes that tell your body to store extra fat deep in your belly. That raises your risk for life-threatening heart disease and diabetes. Saturated fat also activates genes that increase body-wide inflammation while turning off cancer-fighting genes at the same time.

Switch on cancer-fighting goodness. Compounds like sulforaphane in broccoli, diallyl sulfide in garlic and selenium in Brazil nuts switch on anti-cancer genes. Cruciferous veggies, green tea, soy and turmeric (a yummy spice found in curry) all pitch in for the switch, too.

Put on your sneakers…or your bathing suit. Regular exercise affects the activity of more than 5,000 genes -- many involved with cooling inflammation, improving blood sugar control, and burning fat and sugar for fuel. This helps explain why a daily, 30-minute walk or a regular swimming, biking or Zumba habit helps your heart, your blood sugar, your brain and more!

Relax. The deep calm you feel after meditation, deep breathing or yoga is deep-down good for your DNA, too. In one study from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers found that this profound calm triggers changes right away in genes that help govern immunity, inflammation, blood sugar control and your body’s ability to burn fat and sugars efficiently for energy. The study found beneficial changes for first-time and long-time meditators alike.

Connect with friends and loved ones. Loneliness can alter the workings of more than 200 genes, many involved with inflammation and immune responses, University of Chicago researchers report. One fascinating finding: People who said they felt more alone had extra activity in 78 genes that boost inflammation and reduced activity in 131 that control inflammation and also help fight viruses. Switch that up by staying in touch with family and friends.

Pinpoint your purpose. Happiness is good…having meaning in your life is even better. People in a University of California Los Angeles study who said they felt their lives were meaningful, had a better combination of low-inflammation, virus-fighting genes switched on than those who were merely happy. One in four people felt their lives had purpose -- a quality you can develop by belonging to an organization that matters to you or spending time doing something you believe contributes to your community or the larger world. A sense of purpose and passion doesn’t just make you feel alive, it also helps you express your best genetic self and that will help you extend a happy and healthy life.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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