Does DNA = destiny?

Just before the holidays, I received an email from my insurance company promoting discounts on various wellness products. One in particular caught my eye – genetic composition testing designed to “optimize your daily nutrition and exercise routine to help meet your fitness and health goals.” I had heard about this type of genetic testing and was interested in learning more. The timing was perfect as I had been wanting to shake up my exercise regimen, having fallen into a comfortable rut over the last year or so. I decided to take the plunge not only to learn more about my own disposition, but to be able to share my experience here in case any of you have been thinking about exploring this type of genetic testing.

I want to preface this all with a note about genetic testing – I know there is still quite a bit of controversy about direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Many people have concerns about privacy and what these companies do with the data they compile. I’m not here to debate the ethics of genetic testing, but I do recommend that anyone thinking about getting tested do their due diligence and read through the privacy information provided by the vendor. Call me naïve, but I choose to trust that my data won’t be misused by the vendor that I selected. I may be wrong, but I will cross that bridge if/when I come to it.

That being said, I ordered the test kit online and received it in the mail within a week or so. The test consisted of a few simple swabs of my cheeks. The company provided a pre-paid envelope to return the swabs. I sent them off and eagerly awaited the results. Within two weeks I received an email with a link to access the report online in a downloadable PDF format. About two weeks later, I received the printed report via snail mail, which is really nice as I did not want to print out the 40-page document myself (it is nicely done with full color graphics, but they would totally suck up my printer ink).

The letter in the front of the report reminded me that several factors impact health and fitness, including genes, environmental influences and lifestyle choices. Most studies have shown that genetics contribute between 30-40% to the body’s response to food and exercise. There was also a pretty standard disclaimer that the information in the report should not be used as a diagnostic tool and should not replace proper medical care from your healthcare provider. Instead, the vendor recommended using the report as a “guide to identify and implement actions to assist in taking control of my health and fitness.” And honestly, that is what I plan to do. I have taken some time to digest the information and I am working on a plan to determine how to use this information to inform my eating and exercise habits. I thought I would share some of what I learned and how I intend to incorporate the information into my wellness plan.

I have to admit that I was impressed with the amount of information included in the report and I thought it was presented in a simple, easy to read format. There is a Summary of Results page in the front followed by more detailed sections for each category tested. There are color charts, tables and graphics for those who are more visual learners. The nutrition information was presented first, followed by the exercise recommendations. For each category, the report includes information about what genes were tested and how they impact your body. Below are some highlights from my report and my thoughts on how I’ll use the information:

Body Weight and Weight Regain

Two of the most interesting pieces of information for me were related to body weight and weight regain and unfortunately for me, the news was not so good. I am apparently at high risk for both obesity and regaining weight after dieting. This news was not a total surprise as I have struggled since adolescence to maintain a healthy weight. I have definitely experienced the common yo-yo dieting phenomenon, going through phases of losing and regaining weight since high school. I definitely feel like my predisposition is to be on the heavier side. When I look at family photos, there are several obese relatives throughout the generations (think stereotypical fat, Italian grandmothers).

Satiety and Impulsive Eating

I also learned that I am predisposed to impaired satiety, meaning I tend to overeat because I may not sense fullness until I have already eaten more than enough. Again, not surprising to me as I have always been a fast eater. My dad is a very fast eater whereas my mom could compete for slowest eater on earth. I’m guessing I got my dad’s genes here. The good news is I am less likely to eat impulsively as I do not have lower dopamine sensitivity, i.e., I receive enough “reward” from eating tasty foods that I don’t have to overindulge to be satisfied.

The above results pertaining to obesity, weight regain and impaired satiety could cause some people to throw up their hands and give up trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. For me, it just heightens my awareness that I may have to work a little harder than others to do so. I learned a long time ago that I was never going to look like a super model – and I’m cool with that. I also abandoned traditional dieting several years ago, after realizing that it was not a sustainable approach to weight management. These days, I am much more focused on a mindful eating approach and listening to my body when it comes to food and eating habits. I believe this will help tremendously with the impaired satiety issue – I have learned that I need to slow down when I eat, so that I can tune into the signals from my body as I begin to feel full. For years, the speed at which I ate led to a consistent pattern of overeating and feeling uncomfortably full after most meals. I have been working on that for the past few years and these test results have increased my resolve to continue doing so.

Inflammation

The news was also not great when it comes to my body’s inflammatory response. I am apparently at high risk for chronic inflammation, which has been linked to several preventable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. It indicated that I was also more prone to the inflammatory effects of a diet high in sugar, refined carbs and vegetable oils. As someone who grew up on pasta and has battled a major sweet tooth her whole life, I can see some validity in this result. The good news is that there are foods I can eat that have an anti-inflammatory effect, as I discussed in a previous blog post about an anti-inflammatory diet. My family and I had already started making some changes to our diet after I attended that seminar, but I know that there is more work to be done – and I am willing to do it.

Exercise and Fitness

As I mentioned earlier, I was more interested in the results related to exercise and fitness and what I learned was pretty fascinating. Apparently, I have the capability to excel in both power and endurance activities, i.e., a mix of sprinting and distance events. My whole life I have always struggled with activities requiring short bursts of energy. For example, I have always disliked sports like tennis and basketball because I was too lazy to run back and forth. I also tried sprinting when I was on the track team in high school but fared much better as a middle-distance runner. I just thought I didn’t have it in me, but I am rethinking that mindset with this new knowledge. Perhaps I just never had the proper training to build up the capacity for power activities. I may give it a try and still find out that I don’t like those activities, but at least I won’t count myself out without first giving them a chance.

Two other results that kind of go hand in hand relate to the best type of exercise for fat loss and the tendency for muscle soreness. Not too surprisingly, the results indicated that I need a combination of strength/resistance and cardio exercise for the most effective fat loss. Many fitness experts promote this combined approach for anyone looking to lose weight and/or improve their fitness level. However, I apparently have the tendency to deposit fat under the skin rather than in the muscle and to lose weight, I would benefit from an approach such as high intensity interval training (HIIT). Interval training generally consists of a warm up period, then several repetitions of high-intensity exercise separated by medium intensity exercise for recovery, then a cool down period. The recommendations in my report advised against training only on pure cardio or endurance activities only…which is something I admit I’ve been doing for the last few years. Oops. Guess it is time to mix things up a bit.

Perhaps the reason I tend to avoid strength training or resistance activities (such as lifting weights, doing push-ups, etc.) is the association with DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. You know – that achy feeling you get a day or two after engaging in muscle-building activities. My genes leave me more likely to experience this soreness according to my report. I’ll admit I have kind of a love-hate relationship with muscle soreness. On one hand, it usually makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something in my workout, but it can make me wimp out and not want to continue training. The good news is there are several strategies to help minimize the soreness, including rest days, stretching, and the occasional over the counter pain relievers if needed. Being aware that I may experience muscle soreness more than the average person will help me prepare for it and adopt ways to minimize the aches.

So what’s the verdict?

Bottom line, I am glad that I did the test. I think the information is one tool of many that can help inform my approach to health and fitness. I know that it is not the end all, be all and I don’t believe that my DNA is my destiny. But in my case, I learned some things that are making me rethink some preconceived notions I have had, especially about my physical abilities. I realize that I may give another go at tennis and still not like it or be good at it, but at least I am willing to try.

Note: I purposely am not sharing the name of the vendor I used for the genetic testing as I don’t want it to be seen as an endorsement of one company over another (especially since I only tried one vendor). If you would like this information, you can email me at Janice@everbetterihc.com and I will gladly share the information offline.

Finding Nia and The Joy of Movement

Before I move on from exercise and movement, I want to share my experience with Nia. What is Nia, you ask? I’ll get to that in a minute, but I want to start by letting you in on a little secret – I don’t really like to exercise. I know –  shocking, right?! Many people have the false belief that health coaches and other wellness professionals work out for hours on end, eat only healthy foods and never struggle with the temptations that others battle every day. WRONG. We’re human too and are faced with making the same choices as everyone else regarding food, exercise and other lifestyle behaviors.

Exercise as “work”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I struggled with being overweight as a young adult. Becoming active in school sports helped me shed the excess pounds, but from that point on, I believed that I had to exercise to stay thin. In college, I took advantage of the campus fitness center and found a walking buddy. After college, I joined the local gym and spent many hours in aerobics classes, or on the treadmill. Occasionally, I worked up the nerve to use the weight machines or lightweight dumbbells to add some strength training. After my daughter was born, I bought a treadmill and some hand weights so I could exercise at home. I also found a series of walk at home DVDs and dabbled in some yoga and Pilates. But the whole time, from college forward, there was always this underlying sense of dread – that exercise was a chore, one more thing to check off on my daily to do list. Until I found Nia – and (re)discovered the joy of movement.

The Nia Technique®

The Nia Technique® is a holistic fitness practice addressing body, mind and soul. Nia combines movements and philosophies from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts, such as yoga, to help tone your body while transforming your mind. The classes are non-impact, practiced barefoot, and adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

I first learned about Nia through my wonderful massage therapist (and Nia teacher), Laura Ghantous. I must have complained enough about how much I disliked exercising but felt the need to do so to maintain a healthy weight. I recall she mentioned Nia at least a few times before I finally took the plunge and decided to give it a try. I won’t lie and say I loved it from the get go. I found it hard to let go of feeling self-conscious during the free dance portion and seeing a bunch of grown women roll around the floor at the end was a little…odd to say the least. But I did find myself connecting to my lifelong love of music and dance – it had been so long since I had danced! I forgot how much I loved it.

So, I stuck with it. I signed up for a class on Saturday mornings and with each class, I grew more comfortable – with myself, with my body, with the freedom to move MY body’s way. Unlike all those years I spent at the gym, in group fitness classes or on the treadmill, I never find myself watching the clock during a Nia class, wondering how long until it’s over and I can move on to do the things I really want to do. Now, I find myself disappointed when an hour passes too quickly and I realize class is over. What an amazing shift in perspective for me.

From student to teacher

After taking Nia classes for about six years, something clicked for me last year and I knew I was ready to take things to the next level. Nia training mirrors the colored belt system used in martial arts, and you can also choose to become a licensed teacher. In March, I successfully completed the first level of training, the White Belt Intensive, which focuses on physical sensation, body awareness, and self-knowledge – and is the minimum training required to teach Nia. There are 13 principles in the White Belt training. Principle One is the Joy of Movement – Sensing Life Force. The Joy of Movement is sensed as the “vibratory aliveness of being.” Now, that’s what I want to feel when I exercise. And I hope to inspire that in others as I begin teaching Nia classes this fall.

To learn more about Nia and to find classes in your area, visit www.nianow.com. If you live in the Triangle area of NC, visit www.TriangleNia.com to find classes near you.

Nia: Through movement we find health.

 

 

Movement, Exercise and Rest – Part 1

This dimension of the wheel is quite comprehensive so I am going to split it into two posts. The first will focus on Exercise and Movement; then, I’ll follow up with a post on Sleep/Rest.

By now, you’ve probably heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but research does show that prolonged sitting may be harmful, even if you exercise regularly. The more time we spend sitting — whether at a desk, on the couch or in the car — the greater the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. And unfortunately, even an hour at the gym every day, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, might not be enough to counteract the effects if you spend most of the rest of your time sitting.

One of my favorite fitness experts, Leslie Sansone, said it best on one of her walk at home DVDs: Our bodies are meant to move. Humans were not designed to be sedentary! We wouldn’t have all these wonderful bones, muscles and joints that allow the body to move in all directions. Unfortunately, as our world has evolved and society has developed more modern conveniences, the unintended consequence has been less overall movement for most of us. It’s not really anyone’s fault – it’s just what happened. The good news is we can do something about it. It just may take a little extra effort to make it happen.

Exercise

Let’s talk about exercise first – and by exercise, I mean physical activity that you engage in on a regular basis for more than a few minutes at a time. It can be as simple as walking in your neighborhood or completing the CrossFit Workout of the Day.  So, what is the best exercise? The one that you will do! Yes, it may sound cheesy and cliché, but it is true. Finding something that is fun and enjoyable for you is the most important thing. Why? You’ll stick with it. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner from exercising one time. You get stronger or fitter or leaner by exercising on a consistent basis. And it’s human nature to engage in activities that we enjoy doing. So maybe start by thinking about what activities or sports you enjoy – perhaps you like the challenge of training for a road race or maybe you prefer playing tennis with your spouse. Have fun experimenting until you find the activity (or activities) that work best for you.

Some of you may be looking for guidance on how long or how often to exercise. In general, most adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, for general health and to maintain your current weight. This typically translates to about 30 minutes five days/week. To lose weight, the recommendation is 200-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity (with the greater amount typically leading to faster weight loss). This would mean closer to 45 minutes every day or 60 minutes five days/week. Moderate intensity is defined as activity that increases your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, such as brisk walking, cycling at lower speeds, water aerobics, etc. Everybody is different so it is a good idea to talk to your doctor if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or if you have health issues that could limit your ability to participate in certain activities.

Movement

Perhaps more important than exercise though is the need to build regular movement into your day – particularly if your work or home life finds you sitting most of the time. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce sitting time, including:

  • If you work at a desk or on a computer most of the day, stand up and/or walk around for a few minutes every hour (or even half-hour if possible).
  • Consider a desk that lets you work both standing and sitting down. You could also explore a treadmill desk that allows you to walk slowly while you work.
  • Park your car further away from the building so you’ll be able to walk more. Stand rather than sit if you ride the bus or subway.
  • Try standing or doing chores while watching TV. Build in brief fitness breaks during commercials.
  • Become less efficient – consider not multitasking to get more movement into your day. For example, pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of doing it all in one trip.

Adding short bursts of standing and movement like this will keep you from becoming an “active couch potato,” someone who exercises regularly and then remains largely sedentary the rest of the time. Think of fitness as something that entails what you do the entire day, not just during your workout.