How Can Our Genes Influence Our Physical Fitness?

With summer around the corner, many people are excited to spend more time outside and to get some extra exercise in – whether that’s because you want to work towards getting that beach body, or you simply want to optimize your health and wellbeing, there’s no wrong reason. And the benefits of exercise are not only for our physical fitness, but can also improve our mental wellbeing.

Our genes can impact various aspects related to physical fitness and can help determine the exercise regimen best suited for our unique genetic makeup. Our genes can also help us understand our susceptibility to injury; how quickly we are able to recover after a workout; the impact of exercise on managing Type 2 Diabetes; our pain tolerance; our inherent inclination towards exercise; and our bone health profile. In this month’s newsletter, we’ll discuss exercise recovery, bone health, and motivation.

Recovery – All exercise, from weight-training to running, causes “good damage” to muscle fibers, and rest between exercise sessions is required for our muscles to be able to properly strengthen and rebuild. Everyone is unique, and our genetics play a significant role in regulating post-exercise inflammation and fatigue. For understanding how adept our bodies are when it comes to exercise recovery, we can look at genetic markers associated with inflammation and detoxification. Everyone has inflammation and free-radicals produced when they exercise, but some people can clear that away quicker than others. If for example your genes tell you that your body is potentially slow at clearing inflammation, you may find that you benefit from taking longer breaks between sets in the gym, or you may find that natural products, like antioxidants, NAC, or Omega 3 can help with that inflammation. Understanding if you carry genetic variants within your IL6, IL6-R, CRP, TNFa, and SOD2 genes can help figure out how long it takes for your body to recuperate, and can be key to preventing injury and to help you build an optimal exercise regimen.

Bone Health – Since we’re all vertebrates, our bones are somewhat important. They keep us upright, and provide structure and support for our nervous system, blood vessels, organs, and muscles. Our bones are constantly being built up and broken down in a process called remodeling, which is vital to keeping our bones strong and healthy. Various types of exercise, including balance training, weight bearing aerobic activity, and strength training, are important to ensure that bone remodeling is occurring properly. By looking at genes that influence bone formation, such as the VDR gene which encodes the Vitamin D Receptor, we can get a better understanding of our risk for bone loss and how we should exercise to optimize our bones’ strength (resistance to fracture), mineral density, structure, and quality.

Motivation – Interestingly, our genes not only influence structural aspects of our bodies like our bones and muscles, but can also influence our behaviour. While some individuals actually have a natural inclination to want to exercise (getting more pleasure from exercise and perceive exercise as requiring less effort), others have a natural inclination to sit on the couch and eat potato chips. Understanding our motivation tendencies allows us to design an exercise plan that will work with, rather than against, our intrinsic motivations. Genes that encode the Leptin Receptor (LEPR) and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) have both been shown to influence exercise motivation and response to exercise, and understanding genetic variations within these genes can help us better understand ourselves. While most adults know from experience whether they are motivated to exercise or not, it’s interesting to see what our genes have to say about it. If for example, our genes show that we’re less likely to want to exercise, adding some accountability, like working out with a friend or signing up for (and paying for) a class, can go a long way in keeping us honest and active.

If you have taken our LoveMyHealth™ test and have followed any of the recommendations in the physical fitness section of the report, we’d love to hear from you and find out if and how it has helped.

In the meantime, go outside and get active!

Aaron Goldman, PhD
Chief Science Officer