Can you change your genes so you look better in your jeans?



How many times have you asked yourself (or your significant other), “Do I look fat in these jeans?”

A better question to ponder would be, “Do I look fat because of my genes, and if so, can I change them?”

In the March issue of Cell Metabolism, researchers found that when healthy but inactive men and women exercise, within minutes there are immediate changes to their DNA.

The underlying genetic code in human muscle isn’t changed with exercise, but the DNA molecules within those muscles can be chemically and structurally altered, resulting in structural and metabolic benefits.

These DNA changes are known as “epigenetic modifications” and involve the gain or loss of chemical marks on DNA.

The DNA within skeletal muscle taken from people after a burst of exercise is stretched in a way that “turns on” genes important for muscles to adapt to exercise.

After exercise, more genes are turned on in DNA. The more intense the exercise, the greater the production of enzymes and nutrients that the muscles need to get energy and burn calories.

Interestingly enough, exposure of an isolated muscle to caffeine has the same effect of mimicking muscle contraction (albeit in amounts that would be considered toxic to consume).

Obviously this doesn’t mean that drinking coffee can replace exercise; however, there may be a synergistic effect of combining the two.

What is the definition of intense exercise?

There are a few of factors that affect the intensity of an exercise session resulting in DNA modification and optimal adaptations:

  1. Load – How much weight you lift
  2. Volume – How many repetitions and sets you perform
  3. Time – The timeframe in which you complete your exercise session and how much time you allow for recovery between exercises and exercise sessions
  4. Frequency – How often you exercise

Based on research, intensity is the key.  Slow aerobic activity is not ideal and can be counter-productive for optimal genetic changes. In fact, some research has shown that people compensate after aerobic sessions by over eating. In addition, this type of exercise can break down muscle, adversely affecting metabolism and health.

Resistance training work-outs involving moderate weights and super-sets (back-to-back exercises) are short (usually 20-40 minutes) and intense, but yield optimum results.

These should be tailored to an individual’s level of fitness and abilities. A person can have an intense workout performing stabilization exercises if based on an assessment that is what they should be doing.

High intensity interval workouts (e.g. sprints, hills and jumping rope) are also effective exercise strategies.

The combination of personal and clinical experience has enabled me to design exercise programs leading to optimal adaptations for those desiring weight loss and/or muscle gain. If you feel like your genes are preventing you from getting into that favorite pair of jeans,  let’s talk.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin