The Future of Fitness


Originally written for published 2 October 2017

We’ve all heard someone say (or been that person saying) “well, my parents have high blood pressure/high cholesterol/heart disease/stroke, so I’ll have it too” like it’s inevitable.  And yes, our DNA inherited through our parents has a lot to answer for but research is showing it shouldn’t be the thing that defines or limits us.

Our genes may carry information about us, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion as to what will happen in the future.  While our DNA can’t be changed, upon our strands of DNA is a sheath of proteins and chemicals – the epigenome – which can modify how our DNA is expressed.  Simply put, the epigenome can switch on and switch off genetic traits like a lightswitch according to our experiences, perceptions and lifestyle choices, affecting our health and our bodies.

Although we all have one exclusive DNA code, we have many epigenomes which vary according to the different cells in the body and epigenetic changes will occur throughout our lives depending on what we do and how we live.

Kylie Andrews from ABC likens it to the idea that “if DNA is the ‘unique song of you’ your epigenomes are the audio engineers that decide how that music will be played – which bits are loud, or edited out, whether the melody is dominant or maybe the drums are lost altogether.”

We’ve long known in the health and fitness industry that eating well and exercise are the keys to good health although the interpretation of how this looks is wide.

What we’re seeing now is the growth of organisations which make genetic measuring or profiling relatively accessible to the average person, showing us exactly what your genetic potential is and taking fitness training and health coaching into another realm.

This is great news.  You can now see what traits or characteristics you’re naturally predisposed to.  You can determine if you’re predominately a carb, protein or fat type, and if you’re likely to have issues with gluten, diary or other common allergens.  It can tell you if you’re going to respond best to high intensity exercise or endurance training and how likely you are to get injured or fast your body repairs.  You’ll be able to find out if you have the genetic potential of an Olympic athlete.

Of course, that’s just what the DNA says.  Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s going to be your reality.  The rest is up to you and what you do to encourage your epigenome to switch on the traits you want and switch off the ones you don’t – and this all comes down to lifestyle, experiences and perception.

While you might find out about your Olympic potential, the flip side to this is that it also makes the excuse that it ‘runs in the family’ somewhat irrelevant as it gives you the knowledge and power to make decisions knowing what health conditions you could be susceptible to.

The health and fitness industry has interpreted ‘health’ mostly to be about the superficial goals of how a client looks or could look, epigenetics could shift that attention to a more holistic view of health, focusing on making the most of an individual’s gene expression and inspiring them to live up to their health potential.

When we change a person’s focus from extrinsic motivators like how I look and towards an intrinsic motivator like how can I be my best, there’s also has an added bonus of increased likelihood of staying motivated as its been repeatedly shown that intrinsic motivators are far more likely to instigate long-term behavioural change in comparison to extrinsic motivators.

Epigenetics also gives us an indication of just how individual we actually are and emphasises the fact that a one-size-fits -all approach to health and fitness is inadequate. It gives a clear idea of what will work for an individual and takes away the uncertainty of which new diet or programme will be most effective, saving time and money.

Cookie cutter exercise and diet programmes will be on the way out in a few short years as training and living according to your epigenetic profile gains traction and listening to your body is taken to a whole new level.