When it comes to trying to convince people to be more active to lower their health risks, one of the most frustrating things for doctors is that the people who tend to listen to this advice most are usually those people who are already somewhat active, not those who are most sedentary.
But the studies show over and over and over again that the biggest gains from making a bit of a positive adjustment in activity level actually come to those who are the least active to start with.
For example, in a huge study which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, researchers set out to examine the effect that genes confer on heart health and whether or not living a healthy lifestyle could offset any negative contribution to life expectancy from inheriting “bad” genes.
And their happy conclusion is that yes, healthy living can indeed offset “bad” genes.
More encouragingly, perhaps, even if you inherited a higher risk of heart disease from your ungenerous parents, you don’t have to do all that much in terms of trying to live a healthy lifestyle to counter the effect of those genes.
In this study, the researchers concluded that even a small upward tick in healthy living – some exercise but not necessarily 5 times a week and not necessarily very vigorous workouts, eating some veggies and fruit but not necessarily 10 servings a day, maintaining a decent body weight even in the mild overweight category – significantly lowered the risk of dying from heart disease that “bad” genes confer.
Or to put this in the words of the study’s authors, “the biggest protective effect by far (on life expectancy in this study) came from going from a terrible lifestyle to one that was moderately good.”
In other words, the people who are likely to gain the most benefit are those who manage to finally get off the couch, even if it’s only to walk around the block to start, not those who go from jogging a half-hour a day to running faster and longer.
So the great news is that genes are not destiny.
The bad (sort of) news is that you do have to do something about it, however.