Researchers took a look at 12 genetic variants known to increase the risk of obesity, and then tracked the physical activity levels of more than 20,000 people. They determined that physical activity can reduce the genetic tendency toward obesity by 40 percent.
Even being active just 30 minutes a day proved to be a good start in reducing the effects of the genes.
USA Today reports:
“U.S. experts say the study adds to the data on the importance of exercise for weight control. ‘This is more evidence that behavior can modify genetic predisposition,’ says Tim Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.”
Recent studies show that people with certain variants of the "fat mass and obesity associated" gene, or FTO gene, are more likely to become overweight.
The FTO genes acts in your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates appetite and satiety, and certain variants have been linked to increased energy intake, especially in the form of fat.
It's estimated that about 17 percent of the U.S. population has double copies of the FTO gene linked to obesity, meaning they inherited it from both of their parents, while another 40 percent inherited a single copy.
There are other gene variants linked to obesity as well, and according to researchers the more copies of the gene you have, the more likely you are to become obese … but this does NOT mean that some people are simply destined to be fat.
The good news is that you can quite literally turn the effects of your "fat genes" on or off, and one of the ways to negate them is as simple as getting regular exercise.
Exercise Turns Off Fat Genes
Remember that it is NOT your genes that dictate your health and weight but rather the expression of your genes. You have the ability to easily turn genes on and off with your lifestyle and emotional state.
One such example has to do with genetic markers that may make you more prone to obesity. You can very effectively reduce the effects of these genes by increasing your physical activity.
According to researchers from Great Britain's Medical Research Council in Cambridge, regular exercise reduces the genetic tendency toward obesity by 40 percent!
A separate study among Amish people also found those who had the FTO gene but were very physically active weighed about the same as others who did not carry the gene.
To illustrate this point you can look at my family where one of my younger sisters weighs more than 100 pounds more than I do, but she is the only one of my four siblings who has chosen not to exercise. My other siblings have exercised for decades, like me, and are all normal body weight.
Most all of my paternal relatives died from diabetes. I am confident that I would have diabetes and likely weigh 300 pounds if I ever stopped exercising. It is the "drug" that regulates my genetic expression away from obesity and disease.
In essence, you ARE changing your genetics daily and perhaps even hourly from the foods you eat, the air you breathe, the exercise you do, and even by the thoughts you think. That you can modify your genes is the focus of a new field known as epigenetics, and it is probably the most important biological discovery since DNA.
No matter what hand you were dealt at birth, you can take steps to "activate" the disease-busting, health-boosting genes and suppress those that will cause you harm. This is evidenced perhaps most clearly by identical twins, who start out with the exact same genetic code … but end up very different.
Epigenetic "malleability" helps to explain why identical twins become distinct as they age. For instance, why does one identical twin become obese and another remain lean?
As you age, your genome does not change but your epigenome changes dramatically, especially during critical periods of life, such as adolescence. This helps explain why a study out of New Zealand confirmed that genetic pre-disposition to obesity is entirely preventable through good nutrition in early childhood.
The good news is that no matter what your age, you can help your genes to express in a positive manner just by leading a healthy lifestyle, and this includes getting regular exercise.
What Type of Exercise is Best for Your Weight?
The Great Britain researchers noted that even 30 minutes of exercise a day, including activities such as walking your dog or biking to work, could have a beneficial influence on obesity genes, but I suggest you take it a step further than that.
If you are overweight, you will need at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to experience any weight loss benefits. Major studies have shown that 60 minutes a day is best, and in my experience, these findings hold true, although you may be able to significantly reduce the time you spend exercising by incorporating the right type.
Avoid the mistake I made for over 30 years by just assuming that aerobic cardio type exercises are going to do the trick for you. I can confidently tell you that you need to have a comprehensive exercise strategy that includes far more than conventional cardio.
One of the "secrets" that can boost your weight loss is actually to alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
Peak Fitness: Your Key to Successful Weight Loss
I began incorporating this type of exercise earlier this year, and the results speak for themselves. Since then, I've coined the term Peak Fitness, which is a complete fitness program built around these high-intensity exercises, which I call Sprint 8 exercises. These exercises can be done in a fraction of the time you'd normally spend walking or running.
Still, despite the fact that you will spend less time exercising, Sprint 8 exercises can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness, your fat-burning capabilities, and, perhaps best of all, will boost your body's natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), often referred to as the "fitness hormone."
To put it simply, Sprint 8 exercises raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds.
You would repeat this cycle for a total of eight repetitions. These cycles are preceded by a three-minute warm-up and two-minute cool-down so the total time investment is about 20 minutes.
For a more complete, in-depth explanation of my Peak Fitness regimen, please review this recent review article on Peak Fitness. Also keep in mind that it's best to vary your exercises to cover all the facets of the Peak Fitness program, which includes:
- Sprint 8 exercises
- Conventional aerobics
- Strength training
- Core exercises
If you're just getting back into exercising, you'll need to work your way up slowly. Trying to do too much at once can lead to burnout and make you less likely to continue your program.
To start, you might try jogging for a very short period and increasing it slowly over time. Or you might try walking interspersed with a period of fast walking to incorporate the Peak Fitness ideology. Then, as your body grows more conditioned, you can increase to a higher intensity workout.
Exercise is Beneficial Even if You Don't Have the "Obesity Gene"
Whether you have genes that make you more prone to obesity or not, carrying around extra pounds will inevitably increase your risk of developing just about every chronic degenerative disease there is, while exercising creates the opposite effect -- helping you reduce your risk of disease and increase your chances of living longer.
This is because the underlying cause of excess weight is typically an unhealthy diet paired with insufficient exercise, which leads to surging insulin and leptin levels that eventually results in insulin resistance. And it is insulin resistance that is one of the primary causes of many of these chronic diseases.
So exercising sets into motion a beneficial feedback loop that leads to ever greater levels of health, while lack of exercise makes your health spiral downward and opens the door to disease and premature aging.
If you have genes that may predispose you to obesity, exercise will help to negate their effects, and if you don't, exercise will still help you maintain an ideal body weight and remains one of the most important tools available to help you gain optimal health.