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Fitness may be more about genetics than anything else

Genes. They’re those pesky little buggers you know play a role in everything you do, showing themselves in your height, eye color and disposition toward disease. 

Yet they’re also a bit of a blind excuse. It’s really easy to say, “My genes make it harder for me to lose weight,” when there’s certainly nothing visible to the eye to strictly prove or disprove the statement.

Until now.

Gene testing, once an absurdly expensive tool used by scientists in white coats hidden away in research laboratories, is now affordable and accessible for the average person. And it’s being used specifically to help people understand their genetics as they relate to weight loss and total fitness.

I recently had my own genes tested by FitnessGenes and found the experience to be downright fascinating. Because I’ve been analyzing my responses to workouts and dietary consumption for years, using my own body as a pseudo-lab, there weren’t any major surprises. But to see evidence that my approach to training is actually genetically sound? That was pretty cool.

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It’s one thing to get an analysis of your genes; however, it’s another thing entirely to put that information to use to improve your fitness. To some degree, genetic testing seems like a focus on minutia (probably because it quite literally is), and it’s the convergence of genes, rather than a single gene, that adds up to create the totality of who we each are. So who, exactly, should try genetic fitness testing?

Dr. Dan Reardon, the co-founder and CEO of FitnessGenes, argues it really is for everyone from the pro athlete to the average person just trying to get in shape. “A professional athlete will generally be looking for every competitive advantage they can find,” he says. “Even a 1-percent improvement in performance can mean the difference between fourth and first place. So the motivation to use genetic testing to enhance training is pretty significant.”

But not any more significant than the motivation for the mom trying to get back in shape after having a baby. “The main reason people stop using the gym, stop following diets, or become completely detached from their health and fitness goals is because they simply don’t see results and get bored,” Dr. Reardon says. “There’s no better way to become empowered than by a personalized precision-based program based on your DNA. By starting out on the right path from the outset without guesswork, people are more likely to achieve their goals.”

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It’s the specialized training and nutrition plans that accompany genetic fitness testing that are particularly beneficial. “There are literally thousands of training plans and nutrition plans in the world today,” Dr. Reardon points out. “Some plans work well for one person but, with the same level of commitment and effort, not for the next, and that’s because we’re all completely different on a genetic level.”

As I said before, it was really interesting to discover that the types of training programs I’ve been following for years are actually the exact types of training aligned with my genetic predispositions. And even though I’m perfectly capable of coming up with my own workout plans, I have to say, it’s really nice to have plans customized for my genetics that I can simply pull up and follow from my FitnessGenes account. Although these personalized workouts are an additional cost to the genetic testing, everyone receives a summary of the type of training they should be engaging in.

fitness genes sample
Image: Laura Williams screenshot

The summary also includes how you should approach strength training, cardio and high-intensity interval training.

Image: Laura Williams screenshot

At the end of the day, genetic testing is information. It’s education. “The truth is there are no single genes that give us a propensity to fitness,” Dr. Reardon says. “It’s the overall effect of many genes that, in unison, gives us a propensity to respond to certain types of training. Don’t look at genes as being important for performance because they should be viewed as being targets of training that, when understood, improve the quality and specificity of workouts that will ultimately lead to better performance.”

But what if your genes really are a bit of a sticking point when it comes to fitness? Will the confirmation keep you from pursuing your goals? Dr. Reardon argues no: “Consider the FTO gene as an example. This is the gene linked to obesity. The concern with telling obese people this gene result is if they do have the mutated version, then they will use that as an excuse for being obese. What actually happens, though, is that rather than using it as an excuse, it actually removes the negative emotions that the individual has about being obese, and they’re more likely to do something about it. It’s actually very positive to give people this type of information.”

And just for the record, I carry one of the alleles associated with obesity. Genes don’t have to be your destiny.

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