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The Role of Genetics in Physical Activity

October 19, 2017 by Normand Richard, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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The Role of Genetics in Physical Activity

Ever notice that some people seem naturally gifted at their sport? For me, the most evident case is when I see a professional runner; they are so smooth, seem to waste no energy and their speed is amazing! How much of this is from hard work and how much is from genetic predisposition?

What does genetic predisposition mean?

It refers to your genetic code, or DNA, favouring certain traits. In this blog, I’m talking about traits that benefit sports. Some of it seems pretty straight forward. For example, if you’re not very tall, odds are a career in the NBA may not be in your future. However, it’s not always as clear as that. For example, if you jump really high and can sprint well you may have a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres. This would favour sports that require quick acceleration and power (i.e., soccer, track and field, weight lifting).

How much of a role do genetics play?

It’s hard to give a specific percentage. A lot of traits can affect athletic performance; so does hard work. Frankly it’s a complicated topic. However, no matter your genetics, you can get better at whatever physical activity interests you, if you put your mind to it. I’ll give you an example to show how.

In high school I got into badminton and joined a local club. I always had difficulty with hand eye coordination. Some of my buddies on the other hand, had no problem delivering a snappy serve or lunging diagonally across the court to hit the shuttle cock. It seemed I was not really “gifted” at badminton. But with patience and practice, I got better over the season. Plus I got plenty of physical activity, had fun and socialized.

What does it mean for you?

There are two things to take from this. First off, your genetic makeup shouldn’t be a deterrent in your choice to try and commit to a sport or activity that interests you. With a lot of practice, coaching, and determination you’ll only get better over time. The key word here is LOTS!

Second, if you are not naturally skilled at a sport or activity, why not create a different goal for yourself. Your goal may be to enjoy participating in a sport for the social aspects. Or your goal may be to reach the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Either way, getting out and doing it is the most important thing. Being physically active is key for good health.


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