Is It In Your Genes?

Would you want to take a test to learn how well you may respond to exercise? If so, would the results make a difference in how you exercise?

A British company, XRGenomics, now offers a DNA test to the public that they claim will show whether you are likely to be a low or high fitness responder.

One major flaw is that the test seems to look exclusively at genetic markers relating to one’s VO2 max. The problem with this is that some world-class endurance athletes, such as the father of American endurance running, Frank Shorter, have overcome relatively low VO2 max levels to become amazing athletes.

On a more widespread basis, I’m concerned that many people would fall back on their low-responder rating as an excuse to simply not exercise. The last thing we need in the midst of this obesity epidemic is to tell people that their genetics are stacked against them when it comes to improving fitness. The population as a whole is already at an all-time low in their physical activity.

Humans are emotional beings. We largely gravitate to things we like, and this is definitely the case when it comes to the type of exercise we do. The key to getting inactive individuals to become physically active is finding activities they enjoy. Telling someone that they are likely to never be very good at cycling, running, or any other endurance activity can keep them from becoming physically active in the first place. This flies in the face of getting people to simply move more, which most health experts agree is one of the most important things we can do to improve the health of our nation.

The recent story of Ernest Gagnon, a man who weighed nearly 600 pounds when he began cycling rather than undergo surgery to lose weight, comes to mind. When faced with depression and serious health implications as a result of his weight, he reportedly had an epiphany and decided he wanted to make his childhood desire to race bicycles real. Ernest was at the extreme edge of the spectrum, but I can’t help but to think there’s something for the rest of us to learn from him. 

I know it’s not realistic to expect most inactive individuals to be motivated to jump into physical competition. I do believe, however, there needs to be a whole lot of epiphanies happening where people begin to see the need and take the step to become physically active to regain control over their health. Helping these people get involved in activities they gravitate toward, regardless of their genetic propensity to excel, is possibly the best thing we can do.

I’ve gotten a bit off track from the issue of genetic testing to identify potential responses to exercise. The exercise scientist in me is fascinated by the prospect of learning more about the genes related to specific components of fitness, but the pragmatist is concerned about the potential negative effects this could have on our increasingly overweight and obese society.

What’s your take?

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