You have a workout buddy. Let's call her, Diana. You take the same fitness classes, go jogging together, have similar diets, and live similarly active lifestyles. You both work really hard, although Diana sometimes skips class to sleep in and has a weakness for cinnamon rolls. Diana looks like a fitness model with a washboard belly and rippling back muscles. You look like...not Diana. Sometimes you wanna punch Diana right in her cellulite-less hamstrings. What gives?
A recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that there may be actual "fitness genes" that make some people naturally fitter than others, reports the The New York Times. The article describes how the study used rats to suss out how certain genes can affect fitness levels. For seven rat generations the scientists bred together male and female rats that could run the longest distances without tiring. Then they did the same with the rats who ran the shortest distances before tiring. After those seven generations, they managed to breed exceptionally un-fit rats. You know, the kind that get picked last in gym class.
Rats on the Run
The Times says that the scientists put the two kinds of seventh gen rats on a fitness program. After running on tiny treadmills (haha!) during a two month long training period, the rats with the Lance Armstrong genes were 40 percent fitter. The rats with the couch-potato genes actually lost 2 percent of their overall fitness. Seriously. They actually lost fitness. When they examined the rats, the sceientists found that the fit rats had larger left ventricles in their hearts, a common positive response to exercise in humans and animals. The un-fit rat hearts were completely unchanged, even though they had been exercising the same amount as the fit rats. That was why the un-fit rats lost fitness. "If hearts don’t adapt to the demands of exercise, then workouts will sap bodies, not strengthen them," says the Times.
Who Gives A Crap About Rats. How Do I Get a Six-Pack?
Basically, the rats who were bred to be fit had a lot of genes that were reacting differently to exercise than the rats who were bred to be un-fit. However, the article is quick to point out that it's impossible to determine if human genes respond in the same way the rat genes did. Additionally, "the interplay of genes and exercise is extremely complex, and scientists are only in the earliest stages of understanding the effects of heredity, environment, nutrition and even psychology in affecting different people’s responses to exercise," a point made by Dr. Ulrik Wisloff, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who led the new study.
But IMO, I think the scientists are onto something. Because we all know people who can bounce off the couch and run six miles at any time, right? My husband is irritatingly like this. Years ago, I trained relentlessly to be able to run a 10k race. My husband, who spent his free time drinking cheap beer and eating a lot of meat, would sometimes join me for a training run. "Just for fun," he'd say smugly. Although I'd been working hard every day for months, he'd easily lope along beside me, chattering and wanting to discuss our dinner plans while it was all I could do to keep from throwing up. When we would come home, he'd skip the post-run stretch and crack a fresh PBR. The next day he wouldn't even be sore. Jerk.
Adversity Forges Strength
It seems like those people who were born with the super fit genes have been given an incredible gift, one the rest of us have missed out on. And in some ways that's probably true. I am not one of those gifted people. For the results most people get from two or three days a week in the gym, I need to put in five. But some of the most important lesson I've learned from fitness haven't come from how I look, or how fast I can run, or how much I can lift. The gifts I treasure most are the the inner iron strength that comes from relentless perseverance, no matter what the obstacles. The feeling of worth that comes from never giving up. The pride in knowing that I set very ambitious goals for myself that I not only met, but exceeded. When things come easily, they can seem invaluable. Personally, I cherish the sweat I've put into my fitness. How I was made will never define me. We can truly become anything we want as long as we're willing to work for it. I guess the only genes I really care about are the jeans I look fabulous in.
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