If you want to be healthy right now, take time to look into the past. You family health history can be a crystal ball, of sorts, telling you a story about what may or may not happen in your own health. Then, you can become appropriately proactive or preventive.  The Centers for Disease Control says knowing your family history can help you at any age.

Talk to your blood relatives first to start collecting information about your family health history – the most helpful information comes from these “first-degree” relatives.

Question #1: What chronic and life-threatening illnesses run in my family?
If your parents or grandparents had diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, you can start tests, screening, and changing your diet in your 20s.  Eating to keep your cholesterol and sugar levels in check can go a long way toward prevention. If cancer runs in your family, speak with your doctor about genetic counseling.

Question #2: What has happened with pregnancies and children in my family?
If your younger sister had a birth defect or genetic disorder, and you’re thinking about trying to conceive, your baby might be at higher risk. Both parents-to-be should ask the question, and in some cases, there are things to reduce risk, such as taking folic acid to prevent spina bifida. Some genetic disorders are detected in early childhood, so being aware can help you notice the condition and get treatment earlier than later.

Question #3: What country did we come from?
Some genetic diseases happen more often in certain population groups.  Sometimes, geographic environments, living conditions, and culturally specific diets can influence risk factors for developing these diseases.

A few conditions that often get overlooked when digging into family histories are mental illness and alcoholism.  Those are more difficult subjects to discuss with close family members, so go to a trusted and receptive family member, first, to start a conversation.

Finally, figure out a way to share the information in a way that your family will appreciate.  Every family dynamic is different, but if more of your loved ones can benefit from your questions and answers, it’ll be good for your family now and for the generations to come.