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It’s no secret that our body shape and size is mostly genetic. But how much can diet and exercise change how we look? Well, according to a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health, walking an hour a day can keep the fat genes away by as much as 50 percent. Conversely, sedentary activities, like watching TV or, ahem, web-surfing, can trigger the same genes to turn around and keep piling on the pounds.
Well, this explains everything.
Since moving from New York City to suburban Northern Virginia in 2010, I’ve gained almost 20 pounds. My eating habits hadn’t changed much. The one big difference? I now have a car. Aha! So I’ve reluctantly entered this Beltway commuter’s lifestyle. I'm often stuck in traffic. Sitting on my ass. So no wonder my butt now occupies more of my car seat and my belt’s on its last hole. Here, folks drive their car to opposite ends of the mall rather than hoof it to the food court. (At least I refuse to do that!)
Back in Brooklyn, the trek just from my apartment to the subway was half a mile. So that was at least two miles a day without even trying. And the sprint to catch a moving bus? Well, that was an Olympian feat. As convenient as a car can be sometimes, it really is the antithesis of the efficient calorie-burning, ambulatory machines that our ancestors were. We are completely an auto-dependent society, for better or for worse.
According to Time magazine, walking may be our salvation. A long-term Harvard study tracked the lifestyle and behaviors of more than 12,000 healthcare professionals. Researchers focused on the 32 genes previously linked to body mass index (BMI), and looked at how walking affected those genes. Could more movement change the genetic odds in your favor? To make a long story short, yes. For the participants who walked briskly for an hour a day, the propensity to gain weight was half that of those who didn't. The study also documented that for every two hours spent in front of the TV daily, there was a small increase in BMI.
This is the first study that measured how physical activity can change the way genes work. Even if the odds are stacked against us, we can change our genetic destiny if we don't succumb to a sedentary lifestyle.
A few months ago, I made a conscious effort to start walking again. I realize that even with a car, I have no excuse not to walk. I live along the Potomac River. There’s a bike path right outside my apartment complex. The winters here, well, just aren’t that bad. So after dropping the kid off at school, I walk. No headphones, just taking in nature and fresh air. Doesn't even matter if I had sneakers on (just No SPAM shoes, ever!). Slowly but surely, the weight is dropping off again. I’ve lost about 12 pounds, with another 15 or so to go. I’ve even gotten my parents into squeezing in daily walks, and I’ve watched their senior paunches get flatter.
Get off butt. Walk. Butt gets smaller. Fat genes go bye-bye. Is it really all that simple? Huh.