“If you squeeze some lime into your cup of green tea, you can absorb iron better.” I stared at the computer screen and realized that my lunchbox (filled with cooked greens) was yet to be consumed. The world came crashing down because I had committed a grave error – I had not packed a lemon to accompany the stash of herbal tea packets at my desk.
Life keeps giving lemons….and they are a good source of Vitamin C! Jokes aside, we have plenty of reasons to believe that we are not doing everything nearly as right as we should, for long lasting wellness and health. Physical fitness remains a major determinant of this sphere, throughout our lives. But…how to GET there? And STAY there, for a good 10+ years?
“Hypertension? Switch to decaf, honey.”
“Don’t waste time in the gym. Postpartum weight goes away only with power yoga.”
“You sure you want to join the dance classes? You will balloon up if you stop, you know…”
AH! HOW do we ensure we are doing everything right? To eat rice or wheat? To have breakfast cereal or go grain-free? Eggs with or without the yellow??
The Fitness (R)Evolution – what does everyone pursue today?
Fitness trends have dynamically evolved, in all spheres. No one talks about just weight loss anymore. Specialized exercise studios which focus on targeted training claim that they can help you “transform your muscles into superstores of strength”, “get those sculpted shoulders, abs and legs… and a chiseled jaw.” Yep, there is something called facial yoga.
Getting fit can mean different things – to different people. Be it preventive health care, de-stress mechanisms, or management of existing medical conditions, fitness routines add a magic touch to all these aspects. Thankfully, the world has evolved to a point wherein more and more people have access to offline/online resources for pursuing their fitness goals. The question is – how far should you go?
The average individual knows that weight management needs diet control and regular exercise. However, you need to do more, for results which are more than just average. You might seek the most sustainable methods which are adaptable into your regular lifestyle, economy, etc. But have you truly spent enough time in finding out how your body is programmed to eat everyday, how much weight you gain when you binge-eat, how quickly you can lose/gain weight….and more? Instead of worrying about why someone else got better results, maybe you can simply check what’s missing in your arsenal.
Want to know ten reasons your friend got leaner than you did? Here are a few of the best-kept fitness secrets (some of which are buried in your DNA!)
Look beyond the mirror
Exercise guidelines may be universal, but individual results seldom are. If you have tried multiple kinds of exercises for a decent period of time, you might be just one step away from discovering your lifetime hack for looking (and feeling) your best! Keep track of changes in your body once you begin a new regime, to identify what works best for you – which means you measure more than just inch loss. Response to exercise can be monitored through energy levels, hunger/satiety, resting heart rate, muscle development etc. Pay attention to internal changes, right from sleep patterns to enhanced productivity. These are intrinsic factors which can help you finalize the best regime. Experts recommend staying tuned to changes in blood pressure/heart rate for most age groups. This ensures that you reach your optimal “fat-burning” zone, as safely as your body allows you to! Evaluation of results is applied by a wide spectrum of techniques beyond BMI measurement – with aspects such as body fat percentage, lean muscle gain, waist-hip ratio, etc. Some folks may find it more difficult to train in a specific manner, or take longer to achieve set targets, due to genetic ingredients like muscle fibre makeup, bone mass/density, detox mechanisms, etc. While there are no guidelines for every parameter, sports physicians and doctors realize that a good understanding of these components can potentially aid them in fruitful training.
Exercise is so “dope”! It’s more than just a hobby
Surely you know this all too well, now. When it comes to exercising, it cannot be taken up as a hobby, as you please. Make your workout an all-weather friend. Have one (or better, two) things that you can do in your spare time. Running track, dancing, power yoga, spinning, kickboxing are great ways to burn fat…but stick to activities that you will easily complete every week, be it rain or sunshine.
Did you know that the chemical messenger dopamine (in the brain) modulates the feeling of “being rewarded” – say, when you win a game or accomplish a difficult task? Working out regularly keeps your dopamine levels up! Studies show that people who regularly engage in exercise are more likely to be focused, attentive and creative, as they are sticklers, i.e., less likely to break good habits. Now that should motivate you to hit the gym…even before you get a rush of dopamine!
Size does not matter – progress does
The real meaning of fitness is that you upgrade to a better version of yourself. If you lunged deeper than last week, if you made it through 60 minutes of zumba without a break, if you lifted heavier weights than you could before…you are on the right track. Maybe if we remembered that any form of progress equals success, we would be happier most of the time! To quote famous experts, “don’t lose your mind, lose your weight”, “eat-and-delete”… you get the idea. Let’s not take our eyes off the big picture. This means that we need to focus on the right goals – functional fitness, sustainable muscle tone and everlasting wellness – in all decades of life.
IT’S NOT A COMPETITION, SO JUST GET TO YOUR BEST
You need discipline, not perfection
To err is human – you need discipline (not perfection), to maintain healthy habits for life. The challenge in lifetime fitness maintenance is that it’s harder to raise yourself back up, and keep going. Just like during a set of push-ups – it takes a fair amount of muscular strength to bring yourself up, and do the next one. If we cared more about preventive health, we could worry less. According to science, a lot of psychiatric tendencies such as addiction habits (such as excessive drinking) can be traced back to basic neural programming and genes! So, yes, there are some people who are extremely good at making lifestyle modifications (i.e, kicking a less-than-clean habit) and they are a tad lucky…when it comes to their DNA.
Disclaimer: Not saying you can blame your genetics every time you fail to get up for a 6 AM run. Keep trying till you really are consistent!
It’s OK to be quirky…when it comes to your health
Hercule Poirot solved baffling mysteries just by using his “little grey cells”. Sure, he was a work of fiction, but his pride in maintaining a wonderfully groomed moustache is totally real. You may possess an odd habit around your food and daily activities. Keep the ones that will help you in the long run and try to get rid of the rest. Quirks that are allowed:
- Choosing to exercise in your free time, even if it’s Friday evening.
- Regularly using a wearable device or monitor for your health check.
- Putting health first, along with all those super-important life goals. You need no reminders for the fact that excellent health paves your way for dreams converting to reality.
- Being a Curious George You can never know too much about family history, health patterns., all of those genes and why they matter. (It’s celebrity wisdom, read about it here). We won’t judge you if you read ingredient labels, or know the difference between trans- and unsaturated fats, either. The more you learn, the more you get to choose from, for your own health.
Quirks that you might need to chuck right away:
- Taking up eating challenges every time you hear someone mention one.
- Inconsistent weight checks on the scale followed by weeks of fretting over them.
- Signing up for gym classes, buying exercise equipment and not using either. Every year.
- Waiting for the WHO to change the rules about BMI and body fat standards. “Cos Indians are safer than the rest of the world, right?” Yeah. Sure.
Exercise response largely depends on pre-participation status
Training variables – mode, frequency, intensity – are all controllers of exercise outcomes. Guess who determines YOUR ideal variables? G.E.N.E.S! The results of fitness routines can vary between individuals with similar BMI (“weight” range). Surprised? Don’t be! This is because of the variation in their clinical parameters, in the pre-training phase, such as hormonal dysregulation, elevated sugar levels, etc. Simply put, someone with an endocrine deficiency may need to work harder to shed weight, and keep it off. Learning about underlying genetic tendencies to diabetes, hypothyroidism and similar conditions is a progressive step towards wellness. This can help you keep trouble at bay.
From DNA to diet : The missing links
“Listen to your gut”. Our parents were not kidding when they said this. When it comes to how your gut processes grains, dairy, meat, etc., genetic programming has a HUGE share in some nutritional outcomes. However, if you were to look at every one of them, the impact of genes on different traits depends on the underlying mechanism. A small change in the sequence of a protein can have a much bigger impact than usual, if that protein was involved in the conversion and utilization of essential micronutrients. Examples of such changes include metabolic defects, gastrointestinal issues (irritable gut), malabsorption, etc. What and how much you eat – before exercise, after exercise, and when you are not exercising – affects your performance. Every workout demands the best of you – mind, body and soul. Make each one of them count, by feeding your body with the right fuel. You can optimize (lower or increase) your dietary intake of compounds such as folate, omega-3/6, gluten, lactose, legumes, sugar, etc., if you know your innate predisposition to food tolerance, metabolism and enzyme activity.
Yes, some people can have their cake..and eat it too!
Sadly, this is not true if you are a carrier of a certain gene variant. The presence of this DNA marker has been linked with a greater risk of gaining weight if carriers do not monitor their diet/exercise routines. Reason? These individuals are actually more fuel-efficient and need fewer calories to maintain their weight. This means that excess intake (fat/carbohydrate) will pile on the pounds! The good news is that they can reap greater benefits from caloric restriction (in their diet) and regular exercise.
Hormones make harmony
Insulin is a key player in glucose and weight control, muscle building and recovery rates. When the body fails to respond to insulin (even when the pancreas keeps making more and more insulin), this can result in high blood sugar. Individuals with undiagnosed insulin resistance may find weight loss regimes unsuccessful, if their blood sugar levels remain uncorrected. Aerobic exercise, along with intermittent activity throughout the day, is strongly recommended for enhancing sensitivity to insulin. Susceptibility to insulin resistance could also be genetic, and if detected early, can alert you in time and help delay or avoid onset of prediabetes/diabetes.
Your gut’s Yin-Yang: The leptin-ghrelin story
Fuel absorption and utilization depends on certain genetic factors which regulate hormonal balance. Leptin regulates hunger, and ghrelin regulates satiety. A balanced relationship between the two hormones determines eating behaviour and caloric intake. Genes affect how these sensors work in tandem – did you know that carriers of a specific variant are likely to snack more often, due to disrupted biological signals?
I have read my DNA story. Responsibility is in, fear is out.
If you still think that switching to a healthier lifestyle is hard …maybe you haven’t read into the basic code of nature – survival of the fittest. This applies beautifully to all living beings – be it peaceful gazelle eyed by a crouching predator, or the human race racing to the top of the success ladder. Let’s be thankful we belong to the latter, and that we know a bit more about our natural instincts!
Mapmygenome’s Genomepatri FIT is a revolutionary DNA test which can help you begin tailored regimes for fitness training. By analyzing biological factors (which can affect training variables), and related tendencies such as physical adaptation, dietary habits, etc., this test can provide valuable inputs for sports physicians (YES, we developed the test in association with leading sports academia), nutritionists, athletes – and all those who wish to go that extra mile for fitness!
Our next article will talk about the six-pack AB gene which is the reason for some lucky folks’ no-effort, no-gym toned bodies. We are kidding!
The bottom line is, there’s nothing to stop you from getting as fit as you want to be, if you have made up your mind (and unraveled your DNA)!
“Our lives are made. In these small hours. These little wonders, These twists & turns of fate. Time falls away, but these small hours still remain.”
– Rob Thomas
About the Author
Rasika is a senior analyst and a key member of the Mapmygenome scientific team. From a Biotechnology background (gold medalist), she has seven years of experience in sequencing, molecular biology and personal genomics. She is skilled in data curation and scientific reporting, for prognostic and diagnostic tests. She is also a certified Group Fitness Instructor and takes fitness sessions for Team Mapmygenome (when not reading about SNPs).