I''m Skipping the Gym - My Genes Told Me to Do It!
|Associate Director, Amy Rauworth|
Why is this important? One of the best predictors of health and longevity is a high VO2 max. In layman's terms, the better your body's ability to take in and utilize oxygen during maximal exercise, the more resistant you are to illness and disease. Regular endurance training can have a beneficial effect on your heart's ability to pump blood and your muscles' ability to utilize oxygen. We also know that regular exercise can improve your control of blood sugars, increase fat metabolism, regulate blood pressure, and fight inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular disease. The idea of using personalized medicine to tailor a lifestyle modification could be groundbreaking in the field of health promotion. Perhaps one day, we will know what the perfect dose of exercise is for each of us. But until then, what do we do?
My answer is predictable - keep moving! Why? Because we don't really know if it is nature, nurture, free will, destiny, or the virtue of self-determination. I admit those are deep topics to consider while you are in a hot yoga class hoping that you don't accidentally touch your neighbor's sweat-soaked towel. But if you want to keep your mind occupied as you see the seconds add up on your workout monitor, consider the topic of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations in the genetic code, but get passed down to a later generation. The epigenome is the marker that tells your genes to switch on or off. Lifestyle choices such as overeating and smoking can turn on these markers to increase the incidence of obesity and mortality, not only in you, but also in your offspring. The choices you are making may not only be yours to consider. Just one season of overeating of an abundant crop for boys in the Overkalix parish of Norbotton, Sweden, in the 19th century caused descendants to die decades earlier than others from the same community. Apparently I am not the only one intrigued by this topic as I noticed at least one book being released soon that I'm interested to check out. It is authored by David Shenk and is titled, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong.
With the knowledge of epigenetics comes power. First there is the power that through science we may learn to manipulate the epigenome (ethics to be considered) and, in parallel, may use personalized medicine to tailor the approach to health. But don't hold your breath just yet. In comparison to the Human Genome Project, which found 25,000 genes at the cost of $3 billion, the epigenome map is speculated to have millions of patterns of epigenetic marks. NIH has committed $190 million in 2008 to begin to understand the process of how epigenetic processes control genes.
These breakthroughs are empowering, a term common to many of us in the disability field! Given this knowledge and given equal opportunities of access, we can in fact change the environmental stressors that increase our chance of disease and death. In many ways, we have been given some of the power to create change in our own lives if we seize the opportunity. That old cliché still makes a profound impact; live each day to the fullest. Don't be overwhelmed by your choices, whether they are past or present, but simply embrace the opportunity of the current moment and move more.
We don't promise to crack your genetic code, but if you need a reason to keep moving or to make better nutritional choices, sign up for NCPAD's 2010 14-Week Program this spring at http://www.ncpad.org/14weeks/. Personalized assistance from our exercise physiologists and registered dietician can keep you on track in your battle to change your environmental stressors and create a brighter future for you and generations to come!
Timmons, J. A., Knudsen, S., Rankinen, T., et al. (In Press). Using molecular classification to predict gains in maximal aerobic capacity following endurance exercise training in humans. J Appl Physiol.
For comments and feedback, please feel free to contact Amy Rauworth at email@example.com.