"I can't help it. It's in my genes."
Haven't you ever heard someone utter those words? Of course you have. Typically, the expression is used as an explanation for something they claim is out of their control. Absolving themselves of any responsibility with such a statement, the inference is that there's really nothing they can do but attribute their behavior, a physical attribute, temperament, or whatever to their ancestral links. The genes we're given at the moment of conception, so goes the default reasoning, are ours to deal with for the duration of our time on this planet, like it or not. It's just the way it is. The accepted belief for so long has been that we simply need to find a way to make these genes fit.
Guess what? It's not true.
We actually possess the capability to control our genetic expressions and create the life we wish to experience far more than previously thought. More accurately, we can tailor our genes for a better fit. How? By understanding how gene expressions are activated or suppressed, we can then manipulate these expressions by virtue of the decisions we make in our everyday lives. It's really that simple.
This explanation is imbedded in recent scientific research that's evolved into a body of knowledge called the Epigenetic Theory of Aging. Epigenomes - literally meaning "on top of our genes" - play a vital role and serve as kind of like a switchboard operator that switches on and off our genes. The epigenome does this by dictating the identity of each cell in our bodies and by expressing or suppressing specific genes to which they're connected. A skin cell, for example, will express certain genes but not others, while a heart cell will express an entirely different set of genes.
Damage to our epigenomes causes us to weaken, to become more frail and more susceptible to the infirmities all too often related to aging. This damage is caused by toxins - both internal and external - and radiation that adversely impacts our epigenomes. When this happens, cells start to lose their "identities" and "forget" what kinds of cells they're supposed to be. If this identity confusion isn't corrected soon enough - meaning that the damaged cells aren't repaired - then this leads to cell death or senescence. Neither is good for us. Chronic illness usually follows.
Unlike our DNA, which is locked in at the moment of conception and doesn't change throughout our lives, our epigenome on the other hand is constantly changing and is actually relatively easy to modify. Here's why...it's our lifestyle habits, from smoking to drinking to exercise to diet to managing stress that have been shown to influence and alter our epigenetics. These are all factors well within our control.
Rachel Burger, a writer and co-founder of Longevity Advice, describes it this way: "Your DNA can't change - think of it like the script of King Lear. No matter in which playhouse you might watch the drama, the lines remain all uniform. However, the director, the actors, the stagehands - your epigenetics, to continue the metaphor - might change. If you eat poorly and exercise irregularly, your DNA's performance might seem more akin to a high school production than a masterpiece produced by London's Royal Shakespeare Company."
In effect, then, Burger is arguing that we serve as are own actors and directors, delivering on the lines of DNA given to us in this experience we call life. We stage our own productions. We produce and direct our own lives. We're mostly in control. We really are.
So, in the end, it's our life experiences that determine how our genetic potential expresses itself. We see that genes answer to their environments. Without environmental signals, they wouldn't function. Our lives are what happens when life acts upon life.
Much like, as Burger informs us, you can be your own director, so too can you be your own tailor. By virtue of the lifestyle you choose to live your life, you tailor your genes to fit accordingly. If you wish to change your fit, then change the way you live.