Genetics and Fitness Connection

Genetics and Fitness Connection

Genetics and fitness connection

Can exercise ever be a bad thing? If you’re not doing the right type of exercise for your genetic makeup, the answer is yes.

The right kind of exercise gives a huge bump in dopamine that can boost moods and help with attention and focus. It creates lean muscle mass and can even help curb junk food cravings.

The wrong kind of exercise can cause stress, trauma, and inflammation in the body. In fact, the wrong type of exercise can actually cause weight gain!

Furthermore, a majority of patients in an inflamed state due to enduring long periods of stress and trauma, thus, gaining weight, may think they need to exercise more, when actually this can cause more harm than good. Timing is an important part of personalizing exercise recommendations.

Like so many aspects of health and wellness, what is right for one person is wrong for another. The exercise that makes one patient feel great leaves another totally wiped out.


The study of genomics gives us a big clue: genetic vulnerabilities and advantages can tell a practitioner much about what exercise will and won’t be suited to a particular person.

Understanding a patient’s genetics can help lead to choosing exercise that leads to muscle gain, can curb sugar and food cravings, increase dopamine bio-availability, and reduce inflammation.

Today I will talk about some specific genetic markers that can guide exercise choices, improve fat burning, and prevent exercise-related injury.

Il-6 snp can help determine the right workout time

The Immune IL-6 SNP gives insight into if long-duration exercise will overload a patient’s body with inflammation, causing more harm than good. Interleukin-6 is produced every single time we exercise. Dr. Morris says this is the first place he references in a nutritional genomics report when talking with a patient about personalizing exercise.

Patients with an IL-6 risk variant don’t tolerate long-duration intense exercise. A patient with the IL-6 variant who is practicing intense exercise for long periods of time (60+ minutes) might say they hate to exercise. These patients may feel worn out and have a difficult time recovering. They might even quit exercising altogether because they feel worse when they do.

The solution for these patients is simply to reduce exercise time to shorter time periods. They can still enjoy intense exercise but it’s important to modify in shorter periods of time, like 15 to 20 minutes of high interval intensity training. Going beyond 20-30 minutes of intense exercise with an IL-6 variant can cause increased inflammation and poor recovery.

Personalizing exercise based on this genetic polymorphism can also help to lower IL-6 through the vagus nerve, which will increase a patient’s biological availability of dopamine as an added benefit.

Col1a1, col5a1, & mmp3 variants give insight into injury prevention

Insight into injury prevention can go a long way in supporting a patient to stay with their dedicated movement routine. An injury means a patient won’t be able to exercise and may lose progress.

COL1A1 & COL5A1 are variants associated with exercise-related ligament injury susceptibility, like a torn ACL.

MMP3 is a variant associated with Achilles tendon exercise-related-injury susceptibility.

If a patient has these variants, prevention becomes even more important. Patients should take extra care to avoid overuse and common tweaks and strains that can lead to serious injuries over time.

Dr. Morris states that inexpensive nutritional interventions like collagen and vitamin C can also help protect patients with these variants.

Genetic variants that advantage patients for high intensity or endurance exercise

Most people have figured out which they prefer, however, if a patient is struggling with one kind of exercise the following SNPs may give insight into what exercise type the patient may respond to more favorably.

ACTN3 and ACE SNPs give insight into why some people gravitate toward high-intensity, short-duration workouts while others excel, and possibly enjoy long-duration exercises like a long walk, cycling, or even marathons.

ACTN3 is a gene for speed. ACTN3 codes for the production of alpha-actinin-3 protein, one of the main proteins that form fast-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for generating explosive powerful contractions during sprints or high-intensity interval-style exercise (HIIT).

The risk variant for ACTN3 gene is T/T. People who don’t produce a lot of the ACTN3 protein that forms fast-twitch muscle fibers have the slow-twitch fiber muscle type. The patients with the T/T variant may see performance gains with endurance. For patients with the T/T variant, longer, slower endurance exercise lasting 45 to 90-minutes at a time may be more effective. Now it is worth mentioning that if a patient is enjoying a certain type of exercise, for goodness sake don’t change that!  ACTN3 can give some insight, but should not be the only thing driving providers’ exercise recommendations on the type of exercise.  That is for IL-6 to do.

This variant can also explain why a patient isn’t performing as well at Cross Fit box jumps as well as the guy next to him that is the same age and body weight. These T/T variant patients might find they enjoy interval-style training more if it is modified.  When we look at this gene it affects performance by less than 5%, which really shows up in elite athletes, so keep that in mind.

In addition to muscle type, the ACE gene can give insight into how a patient will prefuse the muscle with blood.  The ACE gene impacts vasoconstriction, where our arteries contract, controlling blood flow throughout the body as well as the sodium-potassium pump which is important when it comes to cramping.

Both the G and A allele variants can impact exercise.

The G allele is associated with strength and power athletes who require short bursts of energy for HIIT style exercise. These patients’ ACE genes provide the flush of blood across the muscle all at once to give them an advantage to sprints.

The A allele is related to endurance. The A variant does not vasoconstrict, they vasodilate which provides a long, slow delivery of blood across the muscle, therefore, making a patient more genetically advantaged for endurance activities like riding bikes and marathons.

This variant turns on fat burning with exercise

If you have female patients who want to burn fat, this is a variant to look out for!

LPL is the “fat metabolism” gene and exercise actually turns on this genetic variant, leading to increased fat burning. Women with the LPL variant may experience enhanced fat loss during endurance training like long-distance running or cycling. (We are still waiting on evidence to see if this is also true in men.)

This is a good reminder that not all variants have negative consequences. Many variants have benefits, and this is one PureGenomics call an “enhanced benefit SNP.” Dr. Morris uses this SNP as leverage with his female patients to encourage them to continue exercising. If a patient does not have this genetic variant it doesn’t mean they won’t burn fat.

Use these variants to encourage patients to manage blood sugar with exercise

LIPC & ADRAB2 are genes that impact glucose metabolism. If a patient is struggling to keep blood sugar controlled with diet alone, these are very important variants to look for.

If the patient has these variants they are actually an advantage, like the LPL variant, and great inspiration for the patient to include exercise into their lifestyle.

If they have LIPC and ADRAB2 variants, even as little as 20-30 minutes of exercise per day can greatly improve glucose control. It’s empowering to patients to know any amount of exercise is helpful.

How to apply this information to patient care

Even with all we now know about the relationship between genomics and exercise, the most important question when it comes to your patients and exercise is “What do you enjoy doing?”

Exercise should be about healing, enjoyment, and improving health – not “taking away” exercise a patient enjoys simply because they may not be genetically advantaged for it. Instead, focus on modifying exercise a patient already enjoys better to suit their genetics, specifically the IL-6 variant.

A woman who has been pushing herself with HIIT workouts might be relieved to know that her genes show that a walking and yoga routine would benefit her more.

And, of course, no one can eat their way out of a bad diet. If a patient is on a high protein diet because of their FTO A/A variant, or they are eating a diet high in saturated fats because they do not have a risk variant in their APOA2, FTO, or MC4R SNP, recommending an increase in dietary fiber is important; possibly even adding in a  pre-probiotic.

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