This is our first of many Future Of Fitness posts on understanding Genetics and DNA Testing as tools for fitness, wellness and your overall health. Genetics and the rising field of Epigenetics are likely to represent a paradigm shift in how we eat, train and supplement our bodies. The Future Of Fitness is going to be more about working smarter than harder. Stay tuned as we bring you up to speed and then help you become an informed earlier adopter who is able to stay well ahead of the competition.
Commercially available DNA testing kits are so common that if you haven’t used one chances are you know someone who has. While it’s cool to know that your grandpa’s stories about his parents coming overseas on a boat from Italy were true and that you’re exactly 28% English, what can these results actually tell you? What kind of role can these DNA tests play in enhancing an individual’s longevity and health?
But wait a minute – your genetics are set in stone, right? We’ve been taught that while you can train your hardest and keep your nutrition in check, some people are just more genetically gifted than others physically. Let’s back it up for a second.
The field of epigenetics studies the ability of environmental factors to affect the expression of your genes. Basically, what you eat, how you exercise, the people you surround yourself with, how much sleep you get, and just about everything can turn specific genes off and on, like whether or not you’ll get high blood pressure like your mom or the heart disease that runs on your dad’s side.
While epigenetics is still in its relative infancy, research already shows that exercise can combat the negative effects of alcohol 1, and that two people having identical genetic patterns may be polar opposites in that one is lean and one is obese based on whether or not the pattern is “turned on” 2. If these are just some of the examples of how our lifestyle can affect our health at a genetic level, what more is out there for us to learn on an individual basis?
According to estimates by geneticists, approximately 50% of the variation between individual levels of physical fitness can be chalked up to genetics. While some people have a genetic capacity for marathon running and others for enormous muscle growth, physiological responses can vary greatly based on training, effort, and consistency. In other words, physical results aren’t purely based on genetics or environment, they’re a result of both.
So back to the original question: what can at-home DNA tests tell us about our overall health and how can we use it to our advantage? While there are some companies that are already offering DNA analysis that indicates your predisposition to respond to different types of exercise and nutrition, the technology and science isn’t quite ready to tell us everything we need to know to hack our genes yet, but they’re getting close.