Genes-a word that can be used to define our genetic makeup or a convenient excuse? They can give us a predisposition for heart disease, cancer, or a shorter or longer life. I often hear from my clients; “I would love to do your weight loss program, but it is a waste of time. These are the Genes that G-d gave me there is nothing I can do about it.” We have all used or heard the standard reasons for not exercising and eating right—“It takes too much time”, “I can’t afford they gym or healthy food”, “I’m too tired and busy”, lately, I have been hearing more of the “I inherited this” excuse than I used to. Yes, there is definitely some predisposition for having more fat cells or less fat cells in your body, having high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, but so what! The question is, can we do anything to counter the family in inheritance and if so, what?
First of all, most of what we call “genetic” isn’t really. As we grow up, we develop various behaviors, both good and bad, based on what we see and imitate around us. If we grow up and are raised in an environment where overeating and a lazy lifestyle are prevalent, we internalize that and imitate it, without genes playing a particular role. New studies suggest that exercise and a healthful diet can override the harmful effects of some "bad genes" and boost the beneficial effects of others in all areas of health.
In one example, scientists at the University of Kuopio, in Finland, found that people with particular variants of three different genes stand a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But when people with these variants exercise regularly, they lessen the danger. Although the studies didn’t look at why, scientists have shown that exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar levels.
Exercise can also amplify the effects of "good genes." For example, people with one variant of a gene that controls cholesterol metabolism, typically have elevated levels of good HDL cholesterol. When those with this lucky gene variation exercise, as researchers at the Steno Diabetes Center in Gentofte, Denmark, reported recently, they get an even bigger boost in HDL levels.
Sedentary lifestyles, on the other hand, may make bad genetic interactions even worse. Growing evidence shows that certain variations of a gene called FTO are associated with being overweight or obese, for example. Research reported in the journal Diabetes earlier this year suggests that when people with these "fat" forms of the gene skimp on physical activity they are even more likely to accumulate fat. Fortunately, exercise can overpower the effects of this fat-accumulating gene variant, according to a study of 704 adults published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in September. Findings like these aren’t surprising.
A wealth of epidemiological studies already show that physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The good news: even if you inherit an unlucky roll of the genetic dice, there’s plenty you can do to improve the odds.
And your diet can also help you overcome genetic factors. We know that eating a very healthy diet appears to make heart disease less likely, but now that even goes for people whose genes put them at a higher than normal risk of heart trouble. A diet high in fruits and vegetables appears to mitigate the genetic risk of a heart attack,” says a professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. This finding could affect many people at risk for heart disease because of a genetic variant that researchers have only recently linked with heart attack. It could also call into question the suggestion that you can’t help your genes.
The studies used different dietary information. For one study, the researchers drew up a prudent diet score based mostly on raw vegetable and fruit intake. The score also took into account”risk” foods, such as fried foods, meat, and salty snacks.
For the other study, the score was based on intake of fruit, vegetables, and berries. Those who ate at least two out of those three foods daily earned the prudent rating.
The risk of heart attack for those with the bad genes who ate the least prudent diet was increased about 30%. “The risk of heart attack of those with the bad genotype who were in the high prudent diet group was not increased. This suggests that diet can weaken the effect of the genetic variation, the researchers say.
The study findings suggest that lifestyle does matter, no matter what your genes have dealt you. This suggests you may be able to do something about bad genes if you follow a prudent diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. The worse the diet, the higher the risk of heart attack. The better the diet, the lower the risk.
In spite of a less than favorable predisposition, eating properly and exercising have been shown to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com www.loseit.co.il
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