Do you ever wonder if you’ll develop the same wrinkles your mother has? Or if in 10, 20 years, your waistline will match hers? And what about her arthritis—will you get that, too? In some cases, looking at Mom can be like gazing into your future. “Your mom’s health can often be a crystal ball as to what to expect,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and the author of Body for Life for Women ($13; amazon.com). But your genes aren’t the whole story, of course; your behavior plays a big role as well. Here are six factors that can be influenced by DNA—and how you can exert control to stay as fit, healthy, and happy as possible.
Got a muffin top? You can probably blame Mom. Carrying weight around your middle can be closely tied to your genes. That apple shape may be hazardous to your health, too, since it’s linked to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, says Dr. Peeke.
Beat the odds: Cut back on refined carbs. They trigger blood sugar spikes, which can cause you to store more fat in your belly, says Dr. Peeke. Instead, load up on fiber to feed the good bacteria in your gut. “Keeping your GI tract healthy allows your body to burn fat more efficiently,” she says.
If your mother was a tennis champ or a track star, you may be in luck. “Cardiorespiratory endurance and its response to exercise training are characterized by strong genetic components,” says Claude Bouchard, PhD, director of the Human Genomics Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And chances are you’ve inherited Mom’s strength and flexibility—or lack thereof—as well.
Stick with it: If Mom wasn’t naturally athletic, you may never become an Olympian. But you can still improve your fitness level. “Keep doing whatever activity you enjoy, whether it’s running or swimming or biking,” says Bouchard. “The more you do it, the more efficient your body will become at it.” You might also add intervals to your workouts (e.g., sprints during a light jog). And don’t forget about resistance training: It increases flexibility along with strength.
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The acne that haunted you into adulthood? Blame your DNA for that. “People who get a lot of acne usually have oily skin, which is genetic,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The upside is that all that oil keeps your skin youthful.
When it comes to aging, facial structure is key, too. Do you and Mom share the same high cheekbones? You’ll see less sagging, says Dr. Jaliman: “Think of your bones as a hanger holding up your skin.”
But if you and Mom are both blonde and blue-eyed, you may inherit her wrinkles. “Women with that coloring have thinner skin with less melanin, so they tend to age faster,” says Dr. Jaliman.
Stop the clock: Get moving! A 2014 study found that people over 40 who worked out for at least four hours a week had healthier, younger-looking skin than people over 40 who didn’t. It’s also important to keep the scale as steady as possible. Weight-cycling stretches your skin, causing it to sag, even on your face.
Your mental health
"Studies have shown that if your mom or another close relative has depression, you have a two- to threefold increased risk of developing the condition," says Ranna Parekh, MD, a director at the American Psychiatric Association.
Take preventive steps: A family history doesn’t mean you’re destined for the same struggles, says Dr. Parekh: “People with a genetic susceptibility to depression can do things to head it off or minimize its effects, such as getting enough sleep, exercising, and making sure they have plenty of social support.” The earlier you get help, the better, she adds.
Just because Mom had her last kid at 44 doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to do the same, says Jamie Grifo, MD, director of the Fertility Center at NYU Langone Medical Center: "Sometimes it’s just luck." But there is evidence that the age at which Mom went through menopause may give you clues about your own fertility. A study published in Human Reproduction found that for young women whose moms stopped ovulating before 45, their number of eggs declined more rapidly than those of women whose mothers didn’t reach menopause till age 55.
Miscarriages can run in families as well. One cause is an inherited chromosomal mix-up called balanced translocation, which can make pregnancies unviable.
Be proactive: If your mom struggled to have kids or went through menopause early, don’t hesitate to see a specialist sooner rather than later, advises Dr. Grifo. And if your mom had frequent miscarriages and you suffer two of them, your doctor may test you for balanced translocation and other issues and may recommend IVF.
Be forewarned: You may have about a 40 to 70 percent chance of inheriting Mom’s osteoarthritis. A lot of hand osteoarthritis is job related, but if you have it in your knees and hips, too, there may be a genetic component, says Rachel S. Rohde, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Defy your DNA: Extra pounds put pressure on your joints, especially your hips and knees, so maintaining a healthy weight is a top priority for protecting them. And get moving—physical activity keeps your joints limber and strengthens the muscles that support them.