Walking to reduce obesity genes by 50 percent
Welcome to the second installment of our eight-part blog series on diet and health. Did you know that if you
watch TV four hours a day, you could be worsening by 50 percent the influence of genes that predispose you to obesity? On the other hand, walking briskly for an hour each day can reduce the effect of those genes by half. That’s an impressive difference. Walking to lose weight is one thing, but walking to reduce the effects of obesity genes is even better.
How do we know that?
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted an extensive study of men and women from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Study, releasing their results in 2012. They followed 7,740 women and 4,564 men over a period of two years, charting their physical activity and TV watching patterns.
They then assessed each participant’s body mass index (BMI). That’s the ratio of your weight in kilograms to the square of your height. Obesity is defined as a score of 30 or more.
The researchers also identified a “genetic predisposition score,” assigning one point to each of the 32 known BMI-related genes. To calculate the effect of genes on obesity, they measured the differences in BMI per point of the genetic predisposition score.
They determined that each of the genes associated with increasing BMI accounted for an increase of 0.13 kg/m2. Not surprisingly, the genetic effects were lowest among study participants who had the highest levels of physical activity and who watched television the least. They concluded:
- Walking at a brisk pace for an hour a day reduced the genetic effect on BMI by 0.06 kg/m2.
- Every two-hours-per-day of TV watching increased the genetic effect on BMI by 0.03 kg/m2. In other words, four hours doubled the negative effective of two yours.
Let's get you walking.
You are not too young, too old or too busy to start a walking or exercise routine. You do not have to join a gym or buy an expensive, stylish outfit. You should wear good shoes, with arch support and firm but flexible soles, and you should warm up 5-10 minutes before starting your walk. Stretch a little afterward, or after your warm-up.
- Set incremental goals. Walk 10 minutes at lunch, 20 minutes when you get home from work, etc. Celebrate your success – you’ve started walking, so you’re stepping in the right direction. Gradually increase the length of time you walk or your speed – you’ll be surprised at your progress.
- Walk the dog, walk with a friend or join a walking group.
- Change up your route, if you’re walking outdoors, to keep your eyes and mind interested as your feet are moving.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just don’t stop walking. You’re taking steps to outsmart those obesity genes, jumpstart those weight loss goals and taking control of your health.
Besides significantly reducing the effects of obesity genes, walking brings you a number of other benefits. It can help:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your blood sugar levels
- Manage or prevent heart disease
- Strengthen bones to reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Improve your balance and coordination
- Improve your mood
As of the study date, gene testing for obesity wasn’t available to the general public, but you should talk with your healthcare provider about any family history of obesity.
Meanwhile, you can slip on your sneakers and take a nice, brisk walk. Incorporating walking into a healthy lifestyle is a simple way to jump start men and women's health goals. No matter how long or short you walk, the chance to have your obesity genes reduced is a pretty impressive motivator and the perfect reason to get moving.
In our next article, we’ll find out what Ridgeview’s Stephanie Smith, PharmD, has to say about healthy snacks.
Ridgeview Medical Center is an independent, nonprofit, regional health care system located just 35 minutes west of Minneapolis on Highway 5. Its network includes two hospitals—located in Waconia and Arlington—a multitude of primary and specialty care clinics(including OB/GYN clinics in Chaska and Chanhassen) , emergency services and specialty programs, and Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska—a free-standing 24/7 emergency and urgent care facility with multi-specialty clinics and services.