Move to activate your genes
To understand the importance of movement, we need to look at the evolution of our species – our species ‘homo’ has been around for around two million years, with modern humans (homo sapiens) existing for around 200,000 years. There have been some significant genetic mutations in that time, the last of which, the M168 mutation, occurred around 45,000 to 50,000 years ago.
Since that time, our genome has not changed significantly (there have been a few mutations to allow some of us to easily digest milk and grains) and in all of that time we have moved lots – today, however, we move a lot less. Take the Amish community, who live a traditional lifestyle. They walk between 18,000 and 22,000 steps per day, which is consistent with studies of huntergatherer communities. However, the average Australian and British office worker takes just 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day – this is a very significant shortfall.
For very good reasons, the health and fitness communities focus on exercise – we know that exercise is a very powerful driver of gene expression and the famous American researcher and cardiologist Frank Booth once said, ‘We know of no single intervention with greater promise than physical exercise to reduce the risk of virtually all chronic diseases simultaneously’.
However, dedicated exercise is just one part of the physical activity triad, with the other two being workplace physical activity and incidental physical activity – how much you move when you’re not at work or exercising.
A practical guide to using this triad to create positive gene expression is:
1. Accumulate 10,000 steps per day (or 70,000 over a week). A monitoring device such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up is ideal as they both have great online interfaces and social platforms.
2. Do three to five workouts per week – ideally a combination of high-intensity interval training sessions and strength sessions – or combine them by performing high-intensity resistance/ circuit training. Use TV advert breaks to do squats, push-ups or 30-second sprints (my particular favourite and my kids love it too).
3. Don’t sit for prolonged periods, as it is an independent risk factor. Ensure you get up and move a little every 30 minutes or so.
If it all sounds too much or too hard, then just break it down into small goals and increase from there. You’ll be amazed at the improvements you’ll see and feel in your body, brain and overall health.