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Can DNA Testing Help Perfect Your Workouts?

Genetic testing can reveal things about ourselves we never knew: ancestry, predisposition to certain diseases and what parts of your genetic material you could pass on to your offspring. But can DNA testing uncover the secrets to perfect, personalized workouts?

The concept is certainly intriguing. If knowledge is power, then the most powerful thing to learn about is yourself and your innermost workings. Knowing your DNA, the carrier of all of your genetic information, could hold the most power of all. By understanding genes and alleles associated with certain diseases, we’ve been able to test and identify the susceptibility for the development of muscular dystrophy, breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance and a host of other genetic disorders.

Researchers have been able to link genetics to a propensity for obesity. The FTO gene has been associated with an increased risk for obesity, and thus all of the health risks associated with it. Adults that displayed the risky allele weighed about 3 kilograms (6.61 pounds) more than adults that didn’t inherit the allele. Their odds of becoming obese increased 1.67 fold. It’s useful information, but what would you do with it?

On the flip side, genetic markers can identify positive physical attributes as well. For instance, differences in a specific genotype, ACTN3, have been noted in Finnish elite endurance and sprint athletes. Some people’s muscle metabolism is naturally attuned to the quick bursts of energy that make the world’s greatest sprinters, and others work best for the slow burn of endurance activities. 

With the ease of home DNA testing, finding out your genetic risks and aptitudes has never been easier. Companies like Fitness Genes, DNAFit and Nutrigenomix “one up” Ancestry.com and test your genetic material for factors related to your physical fitness. And all you have to do is spit. These companies, like most at-home genetic testing kits, use information from cells found inside your saliva to draw conclusions about your potential well-being.

And it is only potential, because even with a wealth of information regarding how your body is working both for and against you, the responsibility to take control of your health still rests with you. Knowing is only part of the battle. A review study published in the British Medical Journal in March analyzed behaviors where health was at risk. Results showed that even when armed with information about their own genetic predispositions, participants did not change their behaviors. Understanding their DNA-based risks regarding smoking, diet and physical activity didn’t motivate them to make any changes to their lifestyles, and did not cause depression or anxiety, either.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology echoes those findings. Researchers determined that, in the children participating in the study, the inclination toward physical activity could be in part determined by inherited genotype. However, the environment in which they are raised and the relevant behaviors observed in their parents played even bigger roles in them establishing healthy or unhealthy habits.

What seems like a wealth of information is just scratching the surface of at-home genetic testing’s potential, anyway. The science is still relatively new and scientists aren’t completely sold yet on its efficacy. In a consensus statement in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 24 leading geneticists denounced the usefulness of at-home genetic testing for physical well-being, saying that the tests have “no role to play in talent identification or the individual prescription of training to maximize performance.”

A writer for Self Magazine took the advice she received from an at-home genetic test, put it to use and experienced positive results. She reported losing seven pounds after switching her fitness routine to focus on the recommended strength training. Is it the work of genetics or just plain good advice? Either way, those curious to know more about exactly what makes them unique can send away for personalized health and fitness plans that, when put into practice, may help them reach their goals.
If you’d like to learn more about how to reach your fitness goals, or other issues related to women’s health and wellness, consider registering for the Women’s Health Conversations 2016 Conference held in Pittsburgh, Pa. on November 3-5. The conference aims to empower, educate and entertain those interested in joining the conversation about women’s health!

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