Many of us are on board with the importance of generational wealth. Establishing financial security for not only ourselves but for our children, and our children’s children, can help ensure that our families can enjoy a better quality of life. With that said, here’s a new concept to think about: generational health. What exactly is it, and how can you create it for your family so that it can be passed down from generation to generation? Keep reading to find out strategies for leaving a legacy of wellness for your family.
What is generational health?
Generational health is a term that describes how our ancestors’ health affects our own health, which will in turn affect the health of future generations.
Health is defined as “the state of being free from illness or injury,” which is determined by several factors. Of course, there are factors that only we can control, such as our diets and lifestyle habits.
However, it turns out that much of our health is influenced intergenerationally. A recent study found that up to 40 percent of human life expectancy is inherited among generations! Our genetic heritage, habits we learn from our elders, and access to good healthcare are all factors that can be influenced intergenerationally.
Today, we already have the cards that we’ve been dealt with. We can’t go back and change history. However, what we can help control is our own pursuit of health and the handing over of generational wellness to our children and grandchildren.
Generational health vs. generational wealth
Before we begin to explore how to pass down generational health, let’s address an important clarification. Generational health sounds similar to, and can be easily confused with, generational wealth. These two terms are similar in the sense that they describe the act of planning to pass something down to future generations. However, their objectives are different. Generational health has to do with the planning of passing down good health (either through genetics or resources), while generational wealth has to do with the planning of passing down financial wealth to future generations. Both require intention, proper planning, and aligned action. To learn more about generational wealth, visit our guide here.
How is generational health passed down?
Next, let’s talk more about how health can be passed down from generation to generation. Earlier, we mentioned how human longevity is heavily influenced by genetics. Our DNA influences so many factors of health, such as the likelihood of our developing diseases, our predisposition to developing mental illness, as well as how long we’re likely to live.
While many of these factors are outside of our control, it doesn’t mean that we should simply give up. We can still control how we respond to these conditions, and what we do to prevent them through our lifestyle, diet, and exercise.
For instance, let’s say that breast cancer runs in your family. You could proactively seek out BRCA gene testing, which will tell you whether or not you have inherited the gene that heavily influences your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Based on the results, you could manage a healthy lifestyle, take medications, and conduct regular examinations as recommended by your doctor. If appropriate, you might even take the extra step and get a risk-reducing double mastectomy, just like Angelina Jolie did.
A more common and likely example is a family history of diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11.3 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, while 38 percent has pre-diabetes. The proportion increases with age. Diabetes does have a link to family history and lineage, some types stronger than others. If diabetes or prediabetes does run in your family, you can still control how you react to the situation. First, you can take care of your own health by maintaining a proper diet and exercise. Second, you can normalize having discussions about health and disease prevention amongst your relatives, including your parents and children. This can help create a family environment in which health issues are discussed out in the open and incorporating health and wellness habits become a family practice.
It’s also important to talk about other generational factors that influence health, including family wealth and race. Numerous studies have shown that historically marginalized communities have higher health risks. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the issues behind the racial wealth gap help explain this. Systemic racism historically barred marginalized community members from means of generating wealth and living in good neighborhoods. Thus, they were systemically restricted from having access to good healthcare or healthy ways of living. Even today, many marginalized communities live in food deserts, where residents don’t have convenient or affordable access to healthy foods.
While all this information can feel overwhelming, being informed on these health care issues is an important start. Having awareness can inspire you to make better health decisions for you and your family members. Quite literally, the health decisions you make today could provide better genetics and habits that you can pass on to your future generations.
With that said, here are several tips on how to start creating generational health.
How to create generational health
The easiest way to start establishing generational health is to start establishing your own healthy habits. If you start a family, you can model these habits and create an environment where pursuing wellness is a way of life. You can even make it fun to encourage good habits to stick!
Here are some ideas on how to positively change your genetic make-up through healthy lifestyle choices.
1. Prioritize mental health
Putting your mental health first is the foundation of wellbeing. Mental health can affect every aspect of our lives, and by having good mental health, we’re able to be more present for ourselves and for others.
However, this is easier said than done, and it’s easy to let mental health fall to the wayside. According to Mental Health America, 21% of U.S. adults experience mental illness. Both anxiety and depression are common conditions that are on the rise globally.
When we get very busy and overly stressed, our mental health suffers. Instead of making time for self-care and relaxation, it can lead to burnout and eventually more serious conditions. All Americans can benefit from prioritizing their mental health needs.
2. Engage in regular healthcare appointments
Preventative health is also very important. Many individuals tend to seek medical attention only when they experience acute symptoms, after which they often receive medication to treat those symptoms. However, this doesn’t often leave the space to tackle the root cause of these symptoms. By attending healthcare appointments regularly, you can catch potential issues before they actually become a problem. More seriously, regular check-ups can help you detect potential life-threatening or chronic conditions early enough that they can be treated.
3. Champion getting enough sleep
Getting enough, good quality sleep can bring about many benefits, such as boosting your immune system, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering health risks, improving your mood, reducing stress, and influencing a better day during your waking hours.
However, many Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, while others suffer from chronic sleep disorders that prevent them from obtaining quality sleep. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, or having trouble sleeping, try the following sleep boosting tips:
Stick to a regular sleep and wake schedule as much as possible
When possible, get sun exposure first thing upon waking to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Limit caffeine intake; try stopping caffeine by noon
Get daily movement during the daytime (avoid working out before bed)
Try to finish dinner at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for digestion
Stop drinking liquids, especially diuretics, 1-2 hours before bedtime
Power down blue light-emitting gadgets 1-2 hours before bed
Create a comfortable sleep environment that is dark and quiet
Create a nightly wind-down routine that you love, such as reading, taking a bath, or doing a nightly skincare routine
Experiment with active relaxation before bed, such as meditation, breathwork, or sound healings
4. Make fitness & exercise a lifestyle choice
This should be a no-brainer, but getting moving is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of exercise, know that just 20 minutes of walking every day can significantly improve your health and mental health. Start small, and build up your activities over time.
Many health experts now recommend a regimen of weight-lifting two to three times per week to build and maintain health-boosting muscle mass, and then engaging in Zone 2 cardio the rest of the week. Don’t forget to rehydrate your body, and to take a rest day every week! Overdoing it can create unnecessary stress on your body. Further, creating a realistic, accessible, and enjoyable workout routine is the key to staying committed to fitness.
5. Make eating healthy a family practice
Eating healthy can be made as a team activity for the entire family that can boost everyone’s wellness and vibrancy. If you have small children, you can make it fun for them, encouraging them to make healthy choices for the rest of their lives.
One way to get everyone on board is to involve every family member in the process. Ask for help in picking out meals, snacks, and get your kids involved in shopping. Make it a fun ordeal to try one new healthy food or recipe per week. When your kids are old enough, you can also involve them in the cooking and baking process. Getting them to mix ingredients or wash produce will help provide a sense of ownership over the healthy meals they’ve helped cook.
Take care of your family’s health in the long term with a Trust or Will
Last but not least, take the long-term approach of caring for your family’s generational health through your Estate Plan. Having access to healthy food, quality health care, and wellness services is a privilege that isn’t afforded by all. By establishing a Trust or Will, you can ensure that your future generations will have access to tools and resources to keep them healthy for many years to come. If you feel particularly passionate about health, you could even create a Trust with funds set aside specifically for your loved ones’ health and wellness-related expenses.
At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement options today!
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