I hated sports class at school: playing hockey on muddy fields, being forced to play tennis with a ‘lazy eye,’ meaning I almost always missed the ball, not even having showers to clean up at the end of class. Who could enjoy that?
Now, however, I exercise not because I should, but because I love the feeling of exhilaration and creativity I get after taking a long hike, or working out really hard. I need that exercise. Not so for a couple of my close friends who swear they are always way too busy to exercise.
Now it turns out that our differing responses to exercise might be genetic. According to researchers from Iowa State University, whether or not you work out is about more than motivation and will power: it could be that your physical capacity for exertion is extremely low. Or, on the contrary, you might be a person who enjoys the pain of pushing beyond your limits.
Scientists are looking at the body’s biological and chemical processes for clues to understanding what’s behind differing attitudes toward exercise. Recognizing that we all have different levels of exertion that are comfortable for us, the Iowa State researchers have been studying how much comes from genetic factors like lung capacity, oxygen transport and the rate at which oxygen is used in the muscle cells.
From The Wall Street Journal:
Estimates vary from 10% to 50%, says Panteleimon Ekkekakis, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State who has been studying the psychophysiology of exercise.
The idea hinges on something called the “ventilatory threshold.” Normally when people breathe, they expel an amount of carbon dioxide that is equal to the amount of oxygen taken in. But beyond the ventilatory threshold, the release of carbon dioxide begins to exceed the body’s intake of oxygen. This excess release of carbon dioxide is a sign that the muscles have become more acidic, which the body finds stressful.
For most individuals, the ventilatory threshold is around 50% to 60% of the way to their maximum capacity, though there is tremendous individual variation. For elite athletes, the threshold may be as high as 80%, while sedentary people may hit it at 35%.
If you are one of those “I hate to exercise” types, here are some tips from this study:
* Finding an activity you enjoy means you are more likely to keep doing it. Rather than going to the gym, why not take up ballroom dancing or hiking?
* Immersing your senses while working out may help you push harder. Try watching TV or listening to loud music during a workout.
* Even walking may be too stressful as an initial activity if you are very sedentary or overweight. Instead, check out exercise that takes the weight off the feet, like biking or water aerobics.
* Meeting up with others, whether it’s taking part in a team sport or finding a workout partner, can be social and fun. And you are more likely to stick with it if you know others are counting on you.
Do you consider the physical sensations of fatigue, resulting from buildup of lactic acid in muscle or increases in body temperature, as a deterrent to working out? Or as a sign of progress?
For many of us, this is not an either/or situation. These physical sensations can certainly make me feel bad, but they also make me want to keep going. There’s many a mountain peak that I’ve climbed in the Sierras of California where I’ve had to tell myself to keep going because it’s such a hard, grinding slog. But there is nothing to compare to the sense of achievement on finally reaching the summit of that 13,000 foot mountain.
So now you know: sports fanatics train hard, but thanks to their genes, they actually enjoy the physical sensations of exertion or fatigue. By the same token, others can blame their genes for the fact that they find exercise unpleasant.
Which one are you?
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