Much of what we do for health and fitness is more for the benefit of our future selves than for our current ones. Don’t smoke now so you don’t get cancer later. Don’t tan now so you don’t wrinkle later. Don’t eat ice cream for breakfast now so you don’t develop diabetes—you get the picture.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if something could show you a glimpse of what your future holds? But there is! Your grandparents. Monstrously poor life choices aside, the way your grandparents have aged can clue you in to how you might age; by looking at them, you can get some insight into what you have to look forward to.
Okay, if your grandma is a three-pack-a-day smoker or has spent her whole life tanning, those activities might skew the results here. But for most people, grandparents can clue you in to how your body is going to hold up over the years. Is grandma’s hair thinning? When did she start going gray? Did she gain weight after having kids or after menopause? Did her skin stay smooth? Here’s an infuriating little dose of reality: a lot of aging is genetic. Some people hit the chromosomal jackpot, and some don’t. If your grandmother looks older than her years, that might be extra incentive for you to live healthy and stay out of the sun. Just a thought.
True story: one of my grandmothers wore glasses her entire life until late middle age, when her eyesight spontaneously started improving. Seriously! By about age seventy, she didn’t need them anymore. While I can’t promise miracles for everyone, it’s good to evaluate your grandparents’ eyesight, hearing, and mental capabilities. Even the sense of taste is affected by the aging process. Maybe the most you can do to stave off disaster is to do some crossword puzzles, but still, it’s a start.
Your HealthAgain, you have to consider lifestyle choices here. If your grandmother is a lifelong smoker, you’re not necessarily doomed to lung cancer, and if she’s made poor food and exercise choices, you might not end up with her heart problems. But if your grandmother is healthy and active yet still struggles with cholesterol or high blood pressure, you may face those things, too. It’s not just a propensity for heart disease or arthritis that can be passed down—diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, not to mention many cancers, have been found to have genetic components, as have diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis.
If your grandparents did make those monstrously poor life choices, look on the bright side. If your grandparents have spent their lives drinking whiskey and smoking unfiltered cigarettes and are still kicking it well into their eighties, that indicates genetic resiliency, and you could have inherited it just like you inherited grandma’s birthing hips or sharp hearing. Either way, you should call her to talk about it. She’d probably love to hear from you.