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A Recipe for Life: 4 Ways to Change Your DNA

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"I need to lose weight and change my health. What's the magic recipe and how can I get a jumpstart on it?"

Oh, how often I hear this! As a registered dietitian, I work with clients to put the puzzle pieces of their lives together for a picture that facilitates change. That looks different for each person with no "one size fits all," but there are some common ingredients.

Research shows that lifestyle changes in four areas affect your genes within just two weeks. This means your body can change the way it responds to your DNA within 14 days to making the way for lowering blood pressure, blood glucose levels, weight, and even how quickly your body ages.

Those 4 lifestyle factors are:
  1. What you eat and drink
  2. Whether you smoke or not
  3. How physically active you are
  4. How much stress you have -- both physical and environmental

Researchers at UCSF and Kaiser Permanente studied the telomere length (DNA complexes on the end of chromosomes) in 110,000 participants. Telomeres shorten with aging, and if telomeres get critically short, your risk of dying increases exponentially.

This study showed 10 percent of people with the shortest telomeres had more than 20 percent higher risk of dying during the three-year study than those with longer telomeres. This increased risk was about the same for those who drank 20-30 alcoholic beverages per week or smoked for 20 to 30 years.

So, what's the recipe?

Don't smoke, be physically active on a daily basis, control both physical and environmental stress as much as possible and eat healthfully. Here are a few tips:

Plan your food for the week: The No. 1 thing my clients tell me is that if they are organized with their food, they can execute healthy eating -- this requires regular grocery shopping and taking some time each week or day to cook healthy meals to take to work or heat up after work.

Make time to exercise: Either plan a 30-minute workout each day or find three 10-minute opportunities to move your body. Build exercise and activity into your day, whether it's walking versus driving, getting up once an hour to stretch or talk to someone, or just taking the stairs.

Control environmental stress and food pollutants: Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh, whole foods are, and buy foods with fewer ingredients and additives/preservatives. Plan to get at least seven hours of sleep per night to help with regular daily stress and wellness in the body.

Find your routine and stick to it for at least six weeks. One of my clients who inspired this blog finally decided, after struggling for a few years, to stick to the healthy eating plan we designed for her, and she exercises most days of the week. She's now been at it for more than 200 days and has lost 30 pounds, with 10 left to go. Because she's been consistent, slow and steady, she's winning the lifestyle race -- and that's magic for her telomeres and DNA.

Reasonable lifestyle changes make a huge difference in living longer, healthier lives, and are simpler than you think. Like I tell my clients, it's the small changes that add up to a winning recipe.

Susan is the author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian. Her new book, Healthy You, Healthy Baby: A mother's guide to gestational diabetes is now available. For more information, visit susandopart.com.

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