Does it ever seem like some people were just born with the fitness gene?
You know, the people who just seem to love it. They love working out. They love pushing themselves, and it almost seems as if they love pain…
Are some people actually born with this gene? Are some people born to enjoy exercise?
The answer: Maybe.
Let me explain. First, let me say, this post was written for YOU. If you want to be better, bigger, stronger, faster, healthier, skinnier, etc. then keep reading. This article is my best attempt to combine pragmatism with science – to help build a better you. So first, let’s start with the science.
The Journal of Physiology did a study on rats (I know, I know…it’s a rat) where they basically bred the “better
human rat”, by following a Spartan-like approach to reproduction. Over a few generations of rats they took the ones which enjoyed exercise and bred them with others which also enjoyed exercise, and they did the same for the rats which did not enjoy exercise.
What happened with these new breeds?
- The “Spartans” would hit over 21 miles on the wheel in 6 days
- The “Others” would hit just over 2 miles on the wheel in 6 days
Not to mention the Spartan-rats were simply given the option to run on a wheel by it being placed in their living area. The “others” would have to be placed on the wheel.
Pretty interesting study. But that’s just rats, right?
You tell me. Do you think some people just naturally enjoy working out more than others? Is is nature vs. nurture? Is it genetic? What gives?
The study focused on monitoring the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in reward processing. In humans and many animals, the nucleus accumbens lights up when we engage in activities that we enjoy and seek out.
Dr. Booth, who ran the study, said it may suggest that humans have genes for motivation to exercise and other genes for motivation to sit on the couch.
But he also said humans CAN rewire their brains so that moving becomes more enjoyable, or even pleasurable.
So the million-dollar question: How do we do that!?
Give Your DNA a Tune-Up
Lucky for you and me, we have not been bred by scary scientists trying to make us the best or worst version of ourselves. We are who we are and all we can do is our best to change and alter what we have been given. Having said that, don’t think this means “having bad genes” means you are screwed.
The good news is you can alter your DNA through working out. This has been proven with two different studies (done on humans this time).You see, genes can be altered, turned off, turned on, etc.; depending on what signals they receive from different places in the body.
Really, genes are manipulated by what you are eating, how you are moving, etc.
In the first study, they took sedentary individuals and got them started on a good workout routine for 6 months and, of course, they got healthier. But more interestingly, they changed the genes in their fat cells! In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns (methylation is a process which makes it easier or harder for a specific gene to receive and respond to messages from the body). So working out actually made these genes better.
In the second study, they didn’t make people workout for 6 months…No, they monitored methylation after only ONE workout by actually taking a small piece of muscle out of the leg pre and post workout (very small, I’m sure it didn’t hurt…much). And guess what?? They found out that the DNA methylation patterns in the muscle cells were already changing after that one workout, with some genes gaining methyl groups and some losing them. They also found that the more intense the workout, the more change that occurred.
Reading in between the lines, or reading all that boring science, to end up in a catch 22 situation…
- “Oh, you want to enjoy working out more…then just workout more!”
It’s good and bad news. The good news is you can make changes to your DNA. You can tune it up and make your body work better than it ever has before. The bad news (if you don’t enjoy working out) is the only way to do a tune-up to your DNA is to actually workout; and the more intense, the better.
But I offer two different methods to actually change your DNA.
How to Actually Change Your DNA
The fundamental principle missing in those studies (and most scientific studies) is the fact that the we have brains! We aren’t machines. So science gives us the facts, now we figure out how to manipulate our DNA in our subjective human nature.
Changing your DNA starts with changing your brain. You have to focus on the small daily wins to start winning in the big picture of health and fitness. It’s great to know that we are in more control of our genetic potential than previously realized.
But what can you do today?
When you are in the trenches, studies and research don’t help. It can be somewhat motivating, but ultimately, it will not help you become a better human.
So what can we start to make fitness a part of our DNA?? I’m talking to those who could afford to love fitness a little bit more AND I’m talking to those who wish they could push themselves a little bit harder.
Fitness has become a programmed activity in today’s world. It fits in with a checklist; take out the trash, go to work, long list of a hundred other things….then workout (if you can). It is normally on the list of “things you don’t enjoy”. If fitness is not something you enjoy, you are doing it wrong!
Method #1: Learn What You Enjoy
Fitness is not 30 minutes of weight training followed by 20 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of abs. There is an entire other world out there; sandbag training, kettlebell training, high intensity interval training, powerlifting, running, weightlifting, bodybuilding, hiking, walking, the list goes on and on.
So the first thing you need to do to make fitness a part of your DNA is you need to find something YOU enjoy whether it is powerlifting or parkour. Personally, I have a love for the barbell, but I also enjoy pushing myself so I practice multiple disciplines.
How about you?
I know there are fitness-beasts in the End of Three Fitness community, but I know some who stretch themselves to do things they may not like in an effort to be good at everything. It’s a great approach, at times, but the risk is pursuing too much and losing motivation.
Experiment. Train your weaknesses from time to time, but don’t linger on something you intrinsically hate. Try it all out and find something you enjoy and something you want to get better at. You do it for you. You do it because your enjoy it, you want to get better and you want to grow.
Method #2: Forget Goals
Next, forget your goals and build your habits. We all have goals, but focusing too much on the big picture can be discouraging, and missing our ultimate goal in the desired time frame can take a lot of wind out of your sails.
So this goes against the grain of what most goal setting lectures and lessons would teach, but how about just this once we refuse to make a goal?
Instead of a goal we will just focus on today, or rather, the daily grind. Starting today, set one habit you want to START however small does not matter and start tracking your progress. It doesn’t matter what the habit is; put a barbell on your back, run in the morning, etc.
Just get it done!
So I officially just took the “bad genetics” argument away from a lot of people. It’s time to do some work!
Change your DNA. Change your brain. Become a better human!
Sources: Are You Programmed to Enjoy Exercise?, Nucleus accumbens neuronal maturation differences in young rats bred for low versus high voluntary running behaviour Roberts 2014 The Journal of Physiology Wiley Online Library, A six months exercise intervention influences the… [PLoS Genet. 2013] – PubMed – NCBI, Acute exercise remodels promoter methylation in h… [Cell Metab. 2012] – PubMed – NCBI, How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells.
Icons by Jeff Gerlach, Luis Prado and Andrew J. Young