Don’t Blame Your Genes

As you get older, lifestyle choices have a greater impact on health

The state of your health has less to do with genetics than you may think, and that’s a good thing, says Michael Roizen, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Simply put: The older you get, the more influence you have on your health, he says. “By the time you’re 50, it’s about 70 percent lifestyle choices and only about 30 percent genetics.”

Two of Dr. Roizen’s biggest fans didn’t wait that long to make a difference in their health. Tim and Shanna Wirtz, at only 35 and 29 respectively, are living healthier lives thanks to the changes they made earlier this year.

Having already experienced and overcome some of the health problems commonly associated with aging, they say they now have a more optimistic view of growing older.

When Tim first met Dr. Roizen in January of this year, he weighed 260 pounds. His blood tests indicated a new onset of type 2 diabetes as well as hazardous levels of inflammation and triglycerides. A plant supervisor for Lafarge North America’s Lordstown facility, Tim was one of three Lafarge employees who agreed to be videotaped as they took part in a disease reversal program developed by Cleveland Clinic.

The taping began on Jan. 17; by May 17, Tim and his wife, who had begun the program with him, had already experienced a dramatic turnaround in their well-being. Shanna lost 60 pounds and Tim dropped his weight to 209. He also got rid of the type 2 diabetes, cut his inflammation markers by more than 50 percent and quit a 22-year habit of using chewing tobacco. Both report increased energy.

Residents of Struthers, Ohio, near Youngstown, the couple followed Dr. Roizen’s dietary guidelines by avoiding five food groups: saturated and trans fats, sugars, syrups such as evaporated cane juice, and any flour product that isn’t 100 percent whole grain. The program also had them controlling their portions and walking 10,000 steps a day. “Both of us stuck with it,” Shanna says.

They didn’t give in to cravings, Shanna says. “We really wanted to improve our health for our daughter.”

Tim agrees. He says he entered the wellness program so that he could see Emma, now 8 months old, graduate from high school and college. “The rate I was going, I probably would not have been here,” he says.

The Wirtzes are big fans of “Dr. Mike,” as they call him. “I feel 100 percent better. My energy level is night and day,” says Tim, who used to sleep in a mask because of sleep apnea. “I eliminated that. It’s in a drawer.”

Both have more optimism than ever. “Right now I have more self-confidence. I couldn’t be happier,” Shanna says. “I am more optimistic. Cancer runs in my family. I feel that I’ve decreased my chances of having cancer.” 

To make a gift supporting the Wellness Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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