Attitudes About Exercise May Be Coded In Our Genes

A survey by the CDC* involving 450,000 adults revealed less than 21 percent of us get the recommended amount of exercise each week.

One reason we might resist the suggested 2.5 weekly hours of moderate activity, or the 1.25 hours of intense physical activity, was revealed in a University of Georgia study.

Researchers at the University found that genes modulating the release of dopamine in our brain may control the motivation and pleasure we derive from exercise. So, although regular exercise is still required for good health and better glucose control, our disinclination to do it may be written in our DNA.

Genes and Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) associated with reward. When it’s released our activity is experienced as an enjoyable one. More dopamine is supplied when experiences are unexpected, but we still notice positive feelings when activities are planned—such as sharing a good meal with someone, or swimming laps at the gym.

However, while many individuals receive a rewarding, genetically programmed dopamine boost during physical activity, plenty of others do not. Gene variations that influence dopamine levels during physical activity may account for this.

“Combined with personality measures, we think these genes may help explain why some people have a natural urge to be active, while others never do,” said lead researcher Rodney Dishman, Ph.D.

The Genetic Challenge

Unfortunately, for those of us genetically predisposed to sit instead of move, a lack of exercise is linked to a slew of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. This means for health’s sake our genetic disposition should be viewed not as an exercise excuse, but as an activity challenge.

“Genetics is very, very important, but nothing is written in stone. You can decide to be active and move and do exercise, and in essence you can rewrite your brain so that exercise becomes pleasurable and rewarding,” notes dietitian, and exercise physiologist Dori Arad, Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital.

To rewrite our brain for pleasurable exercise it’s wise to first consult with a doctor about how much activity our body can currently handle, and then to gradually become more physically active.

Making Exercise Pleasurable

Many people exercise too much too soon, pushing their body beyond its capacity to take in, transport, and absorb oxygen. When the body is over-taxed, we understandably lose interest in exercise. It’s more effective to begin with short walks, and ease into longer ones, or to pedal a bike slowly around one block, before graduating to two blocks.

It also helps to choose an activity that we truly enjoy, and then find people to enjoy it with. Fun and friendship can change exercise from an obligatory chore into an anticipated pleasure. Engaging in some competition between friends, or with team sports, may also get some individual’s workout juices flowing.

Those of us who thrive on variety will need to identify several palatable activities so we can mix it up. Otherwise, boredom will quickly set in and we’ll find ourselves back on the couch. For instance, a weekly mash-up of walking, yoga, stationary biking, table tennis, and strength training could prevent someone from succumbing to an exercise rut.

By gradually building endurance, striving for fun and friendship, and meeting our needs for competition or variety, those of us lacking the genetic code for a natural exercise high can learn to maintain an active lifestyle—and take pleasure in doing so.

Source: Mercola Fitness

*U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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