Could your genes dictate how much you like to exercise? And do some people have the wrong ones to ever get enough motivation to start?
“I Would, But My Genes…”
Have you ever thought about possibly having the wrong genes to get really excited about working out?
Even better, could you use that as an excuse why you never get around to it? “Oh, hon, yeah, I should be working out, but you know my genes!”
And would that actually mean we’ll never get some people to exercise, because we can’t make them feel good about it?
You Vs. Your Genes
If you go by a Dutch study that examined 74,000 twins from seven countries, that is the case. According to it, 62% of your fitness behavior is due to several genetic factors completely outside your influence:
- If you are among those producing little of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine you don’t get the “ah, this makes me happy” rush after exercise and instead feel miserable
- If you got the wrong muscle and general body composition you may not be very well suited to be more successful than others, demotivating you
- An unfortunate makeup of your nervous system has you stay uncomfortably agitated after exercise for longer
You got any of these, the Dutch researchers say, and you’ll have a hard time sticking to exercise, because your genes are working against you. You either were born to feel good about exercise or you weren’t.
Where Is The Exercise Motivation Gene?
After that study was published seven years ago, it seemed all that then had to be done was finding the specific gene sequence responsible for your fitness motivation. Which a number of other researchers tried to, analyzing the DNA of thousands of people.
But to their surprise things took a different turn: the more they researched, the more genes seemed to be responsible for exercise behavior. Even worse, every research team basically came up with gene sequences that had nothing to do with what the others had found.
The truth, it one day dawned on everyone, was that hundreds of genes can be responsible for a specific behavior and it was impossible to say someone had the “right” or “wrong” genes for exercise motivation. One person may very well not produce much dopamine, but still have the muscle composition necessary to turn him into a formidable endurance athlete.
What About The Enviroment?
That genes can actually play second fiddle in all this was shown by a 2009 Swedish study that looked at a possible connection between physical activity in young adults and cognitive function later in life.
With the data of more than 1.2 million people, it was quite large and one of its findings stands out: in young people the nervous system is still flexible. Those who exercised between the age of 15 and 18 later displayed a better cognitive function than those who didn’t, genes or not. This was something the Dutch study failed to examine, as its participants were aged 19 to 40.
All in all, the Swedes were able to explain 80% of the differences between people through environmental factors. This included homozygotic twins who come from the same egg and start life with completely identical sets of genes.
You Are And Are Not Your Genes
First of all sorry if you thought I could give you a handy excuse for not getting around to working out. Your genes are just set pieces that can be hugely rearranged later in life. Which means I want you to get to it now and tell your genes who is boss.
On the upside this also means that we aren’t any time soon going to live in a world of designer baby superhumans. That’s something my nervous system gets really nervous about.