There are plenty of possible choices, but perhaps the most obnoxious type of Instagram selfie is the gym snapshot. In the world of social media, did you really visit the gym if you didn’t post about it? These images and their captions usually make exercise seem like a breeze; a daily ritual that the “fitness influencers” of the world seem to be able to accomplish without the slightest bit of hesitation. For the rest of us, though, visiting the gym can feel like a struggle.
If you’ve ever felt like an entirely different species than the people who smile their way through 6 AM gym sessions four days per week, a new study finds that may not be as outlandish as it initially sounds. No, those people aren’t aliens, but researchers from King’s College London have discovered a connection between one’s genes and their ability to exercise.
More specifically, they’ve found a genetic mutation that appears to seriously hinder an individual’s capacity to exercise efficiently. This mutation affects one’s cellular oxygen sensing. Basically, this means that people with this genetic variation run out of breath faster and find it harder to partake in aerobic exercises.
These findings could seriously come in handy the next time your co-worker signs you up for that 5K run next month. “Sorry, I totally would but my genes just won’t cooperate!”
To come to their conclusions, the study’s authors examined a local patient who exhibited a particularly slow rate of physical growth, constant low blood sugar, a limited ability to exercise, and a large amount of red blood cells.
Over the course of that examination, the patient was placed in a simulated high altitude environment, had their exercise capacity formally measured, and underwent a series of metabolic tests.
This analysis allowed them to zero in on the specific gene that is influenced by this mutation: the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) gene. This gene is actually incredibly important for all us whenever our oxygen availability is reduced.
Upon closely analyzing the patient’s VHL gene, researchers noted that the mutation appears to cause impaired functionality in the mitochondria, the cellular powerhouse that uses oxygen to produce fuel. This hampered mitochondrial function is what causes people with this mutation to have an especially hard time with aerobic exercises.
So, the average person’s cells are fully equipped to deal with a lack of oxygen, but those with this mutation don’t share the same luxury.
“The discovery of this mutation and the associated phenotype is exciting because it enables a deeper understanding of human physiology, especially in terms of how the human body senses and responds to reduced oxygen availability,” comments study author Dr Federico Formenti, from KCL’s School of Basic & Medical Biosciences, in a press release.
Before you go and cancel your gym membership while citing “medical reasons,” keep in mind this was an initial observation in one patient. Some days, we would all love an extra excuse to skip the gym and stay on the couch, but these findings are very, very preliminary. As of now, researchers are unsure just how prevalent this gene mutation is, as well as the full extent to which it can impact a person’s life.
Regardless, this study is very noteworthy due to the simple fact that it has proven that some people are indeed genetically disinclined to exercising.
The full study can be found here, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.