One of the most common excuses I hear is “I have bad genes”. An excuse that is followed by an explanation of how this person is predisposed to a certain hardship that may be weight gain, lack of flexibility, high blood pressure, or a myriad of other things.
Saying “I have bad genes” may not be a conscious excuse. We’ve been told our entire lives that there are certain characteristics about ourselves we cannot change. That a trait or health issue is hereditary, our genetics at work. That we’re built or wired a certain way and there’s nothing we can do about it. “That’s just how life goes”.
But what if we could change how we’re built? What if we could change our genetics?
The crazy thing is: we can.
Welcome to epigenetics. The study of the biological mechanisms (stimuli) that signal genes to turn on or off.
Studies are showing that inputs on our body like exercise, nutrition, recovery (meditation and sleep), and even the thoughts and emotions you feel (your mindset) can positively impact our health while things like stress, sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and negative thoughts or emotions can adversely affect our health.
You probably already know this in some form. But what you may not know is that the science behind this effect is rooted at the genetic level. Our genes are directly affected by these external stimuli for better or worse. We can influence which genes are expressed and which are not.
A Swedish study of 23 slightly overweight, healthy men who went from being relatively sedentary to exercising twice per week shows the benefits of exercise at the genetic level. The researchers at Lund University discovered that in a 6 month time period the men had epigenetically altered 7,000 genes.1 That’s almost one third of the entire human genome.
Meditation has also been found to have a very positive, and incredibly quick, impact on gene expression. This is especially true in regards to upregulating genes related to health and downregulating genes related to stress.
Two studies at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston demonstrated these positive effects of meditation. In the first study, 39 people underwent testing for gene expression before and after an 8 week period. 20 people without prior meditation experience received 8 weeks of training in meditation, and 19 long-term daily meditators continued their practice for the 8 week period. At the end of the 8 weeks the novices upregulated 874 genes for health and downregulated 687 genes for stress (that’s a total change of 1,561 genes!). And the experienced meditators expressed 2,209 new genes.2
The second study found that a single session of meditation produces changes in gene expression. Genes that were upregulated included those involved in immune function, metabolism, and insulin secretion. Genes that were downregulated included those linked to inflammation and stress.3
One meditation session to improve immune function and reduce inflammation and stress at the genetic level. Nutrition and sleep have been shown to have similar effects.
It is incredible that our body can react at the genetic level so quickly. The reason for this swift change is a type of gene called an immediate early gene (IEG). IEG’s take only 3 seconds to reach peak expression, and are responsible for controlling hundreds of other genes and thousands of other proteins in the body.
Epigenetics means that our physical habits, the food we put in our body, and how we cope with and recover from stress will directly affect our health. All the way to our genetic level.
So yes, you can influence your genetics. And you can do it incredibly quickly with the right intent, input, and focus.
Stay tuned for the next article diving into more of the science behind our genes and how you can optimize your health and performance. Spoiler alert, your mindset can play a huge part in affecting your genetics.
If you’re interested in applying these learnings to your fitness, career, and life in general but aren’t sure where to start, check out our 8-Week Building Better Humans Mindset Course. You’ll get access to over 60 videos, exercises, 1-on-1 coaching, and interviews with experts in a variety of industries from a Navy Seal to an executive from Proctor and Gamble, CEO’s, mothers, and entrepreneurs as we walk you through a step-by-step process to achieve your full potential.
- Written by The Nate Chambers, co-founder, coach, and positivity guru at Project 13 Gyms