Regardless of your family’s history, eating right and living a healthy lifestyle can help you overcome genetic hurdles.

A family history of something like heart disease and stroke may seem like a predetermined sentence for poor health, but it doesn’t have to be. The truth is, we all have so-called bad genes its just that some are worse than others. You may not even know you have bad genes, so it’s a good idea for everyone to be as healthy as possible to maximize good genes and minimize bad ones.

Lifestyle choices

To start with, there are some pretty easy lifestyle choices you can make to stay as healthy as possible:

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart.
  • Get as close to a healthy body weight as you can.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Make your plate as colorful as possible; everything shouldn’t be bland and beige.
  • Keep your intake of sodium at a moderate level. (But don’t go below 2,000 milligrams a day, which is associated with increased levels of diseases.)
  • Take medications you need as prescribed at the right times, in the right dosages, and with or without food as recommended.

For those with a less-than-perfect diet, using a multivitamin probably is not a bad idea, and calcium is important for bone health, especially for women. Vitamin D can be helpful as well.

You might be thinking, yeah, but why did George Burns smoke and drink and live to 100 years old? And why do people who are 40 and very fit drop dead of a heart attack? That’s genes.

The genetic effect

There are many research projects underway looking at families where certain genetic traits are present. By identifying what genes are at play in certain conditions, researchers can come up with a drug whether it puts back an enzyme that’s missing or patches a genetic defect that acts as a cure. Rare diseases are easier to track, but more common conditions like elevated triglycerides are harder to pinpoint. Those are likely polygenetic, meaning there are multiple genes that are a factor. The next couple of years may hold a very strong promise for new clinical tools to emerge based on this research.

Genetics are important, yes, but don’t let that discourage you.

You play the hand you’re dealt. If you’re dealt a bad hand, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to lose the game. You just have to work harder in some areas. Make sure you’re getting all the proper nutrients and are taking advantage of the vegetables, fruits and abundance of things we generally have in this country. Also, exercise regularly, and diligently take the medications and supplements your doctor recommends. In doing so, you stand a chance of being able to reverse what feels like a predetermination in your genetics.

None of us know if were like George Burns, so we should all treat ourselves as though we have bad genes and strive to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible.

Marc I. Leavey, M.D., is a primary care specialist at Lutherville Personal Physicians in Lutherville, Maryland, a satellite of Mercy Medical Center. Specializing in internal medicine, Dr. Leavey cares for patients from the late teen years into the low 100s. He writes a blog called String of Medical Pearls at