Your family can have a powerful impact on your individual health. This impact can be seen through genetics and inherited conditions, and also through shared lifestyles, values, and activities. So how exactly can these factors impact your physical, mental and emotional health, and how can families support individual members in achieving better health outcomes?
The impact of family history on your health
It’s well established that lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and smoking can impact health. However many people overlook the effect of a family history on health outcomes. For example, a family history of disease could be one of the biggest influences on your riskfor conditions like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Other potentially-inherited conditions or diseases include birth defects, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, mental illness, osteoporosis, stillbirths, and stroke.
Why should you ensure you are informed about your family health history?
Ensuring you are informed about your family history could allow you to better understand these types of risks for you. Even if you can’t change your genetics, becoming informed could help you pursue the right lifestyle measures to potentially lower these risks, and stop or slow the progress of such conditions. Also, it can help you with determining whether you should have certain screening tests done regularly.
What to look for when researching your family health history
So, what should you be looking for in your family’s health history?
Take note of diseases that occur at an earlier age than expected, say 10 or 20 years earlier than most people tend to be diagnosed. Look for diseases occurring in more than one close relative.
You might also want to consider relatives who have a condition that usually doesn’t affect people of his/her gender. And check for specific combinations of diseases occurring to multiple family members.
How to research your family history
Get proactive about asking questions and talking to family members to find out more about your family’s health history. Check in with your immediate family members as well as second- and third-degree relatives like grandparents, aunts, nephews, and cousins, for example.
You should also talk to your doctor if you think you might have an inherited health risk so they can recommend lifestyle changes and the right screening tests for you.
Families share lifestyles too
At the same time, keep in mind that families can share more than genes: they can share lifestyle and environmental factors that put them at higher risk of certain conditions or diseases. It pays to remember that just because you have the same genes doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop the same diseases. Instead, consider how sharing an unhealthy lifestyle could contribute to the likelihood of developing chronic conditions your family may have.
Ways your family can support your health
Although your genes could be a determining factor when it comes to the risk of developing certain conditions, your family can support your physical health. For example, having some physical activities that you do as a family on a regular basis to be more physically active and fit could be of great benefit to your health.
A few examples of such activities include:
- Exploring popular walking tracks in your city on the weekends
- Meeting up for friendly games of tennis
- Organising a membership at the same gym-chain such as Fitness First or Anytime Fitness, and keep each other accountable to attend.
Mental and emotional health
Having a positive family environment could support good mental and emotional health, which in turn could lead to better physical health.
Strong family relationships marked by open communication, honesty, humour, and reassurance could strengthen your mental and emotional well-being. Your family can work with you to help resolve issues, whether it’s a problem you’re having in your life or you’re overcoming relationship conflicts together.
These positive relationships are associated with a lower likelihood of death and even health benefits like faster wound healing. For example, studies have shown that married people are less likely to have any type of cardiovascular disease than people who are single, widowed, or divorced.
Eating habits and social skills
Prioritising the eating of healthy meals together can reinforce healthful values in the younger generation. Children who regularly eat meals with their families are more likely to have physical and mental health benefits over the long term, including better fitness levels and social skills, along with lower levels of depression.
Making time to do things together – like eating dinner together, family outings, and celebrating birthdays – could also strengthen emotional bonds. In turn this could positively impact mental, emotional, and physical health. This could be through enhancing feelings of togetherness, support and belonging.
How does your family impact your health?
Understanding your family’s health history gives you a great starting point for protecting and maintaining good health. However, your genes aren’t everything, and your family could support your ongoing good health in other ways. These include loving relationships, emotional support, good eating habits, and getting active together.
Why not take some time to think about your family and how they are impacting your health. Is it a positive or a negative influence? And should you be working with them to ensure they only provide a positive influence in the future?
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