Put on those walking shoes – Exercise can affect your genetic pre-disposition to be overweight!

I was just having the conversation with a colleague about the effect of genetics on being overweight or obese and puzzling about the implications this has for weight loss treatment.  Two days later, as if in response to our query, the paper runs a story about this very topic.

The “obesity gene,” otherwise known as the FTO, is associated with fat mass and obesity.  Past research has indicated that having the gene increased the risk of being overweight or obese, as well as having a higher body mass index, a larger waist circumference and higher body fat percentage. That’s not such good news!

What is good news is that a recent meta-analysis of 45 studies and 218,166 adults appears to make the case that exercise can combat obesity, even if you have the “obesity gene.” Across these studies, being physically active had an effect on the FTO gene, reducing obesity risk by almost 30% compared with people who were sedentary.

In taking a closer look at the studies, you didn’t have to do very much activity to be considered physically active.  And, people were classified as “inactive if they had a sedentary job and did less than one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week, or their level of physical activity was in the lowest 20% among that group of study participants.

These findings go against the belief that genetics are unchangeable.  In fact, something as relatively simple as increasing physical activity could be a particularly effective way of controlling body weight in individuals with a genetic predisposition towards obesity.  Hopefully these findings might give individuals back a sense of control in the ability to do something about their weight.  Currently, however, people who know they have the obesity gene tend to worsen their dietary habits (perhaps out of a sense of hopelessness?).  It would be great if studies such as this could give people hope again.  There is something you can do.

My suggestion is to start out slow.  Whatever you are doing now, up it by 15 minutes a day.  Couldn’t you walk 15 minutes more each day?  See how that makes you feel and then increase your activity over time.  It doesn’t take a gym membership, new clothes, or a new body to start exercising.  I do recommend investing in a good pair of running/walking shoes.  That expense is definitely worth it.