Is Fitness in the Genes? It’s an Irrelevant Question


The New York Times recently published an article which asked the question: Is fitness all in the genes? The article discusses a study which found that there are genes associated with people’s response to aerobic exercise. Although not mentioned in the piece, this study falls on the heels of another which found a gene that predisposes people to physical activity versus sedentary ones like sitting on the couch.

Now, I’m all for science. We can learn wonderful things from research and sometimes there’s an immediate practical application. But there’s a case to be made for studies of this sort being kept under wraps. Here’s what I mean:

It’s no secret that some of us like physical activity more than others. There are some of us who go nuts without it and there are some who will fight it to the death. And if there were a guarantee that we’d all turn into physical studs/studettes through exercise, more people would simply suck it up, do the work and wait for the results. But, again, it’s no secret – that may or may not happen. Everybody responds differently.

So, a study that presents a reason for our lack of desire to exercise or the lack of results when we do work out may be scientifically relevant, but if it serves as a rationale for sitting on the couch and blaming our DNA, then it’s potentially doing more harm than good.

The fact that can’t be refuted is that an active lifestyle results in many health benefits, including: reduced blood pressure, lower stress levels and improved brain chemistry.

If you happen to be one of those folks who are not genetically predisposed to exercise, here are a couple of things to think about:

  • “Predisposition” doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. It simply means that you may not always be inclined towards exercise. Be smart about it. Smarts trumps lazy genes every time!
  • Don’t expect to be excited or happy about doing something physical and don’t be looking for an endorphin rush when you force yourself off the couch. Just know that you’re doing it because it’s good for you – like brushing your teeth.

If you’re going to be forcing to yourself to exercise rather than looking forward to it, let’s talk for a minute about changing your behavior so that you’ll get in the habit of exercising just as you’re in the habit of brushing your teeth. Some motivational suggestions:

  • Find a group to exercise wit
  • Make it a group of people you enjoy
  • Make it something that’s more an event than exercise (i.e. hiking or a yoga class)
  • Set up a daily/weekly routine

Genetically predisposed or not, exercise is good for you. It won’t keep you from aging, but it’ll make the process a whole lot easier. Get off the couch and do it because you should. And just maybe you’ll find you enjoy it.

About Cherie

Cherie Gruenfeld, Boingo's official butt-kicker, is an Ironman age group champion and world record holder. She is a grand masters triathlete — a sport in which she didn't even start competing in until her 40s — proving that top fitness is achievable at any age. She has raced in more than 25 Ironman triathlons, has 18 wins overall, and has won her age group at the Ironman World Championships a whopping 13 times. She's also an incredible fitness coach with great insights on goal setting and fitness on the road. Have a question for Cherie? Email her at You can also learn more about her non-profit organization, Exceeding Expectations on Facebook.
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