If you read our last article you are now armed with the knowledge that we can change our genetics. So now you’re wondering how. How can you influence your genes? Which things are you already doing right and what can you do differently?
In the “What Is Epigenetics and Why Should I Care” article we discussed how epigenetics works from a biological perspective. The brain receives (or perceives) external stimulation, sends a signal to the cells where a gene is expressed (turned on), a protein is made, which influences a new cell and the body stays the same or changes based on which genes are expressed (and therefore which proteins are made).
We’ve mentioned there are 5 main categories we will look at when it comes to external stimulation that result in gene expression: exercise, nutrition, recovery (sleep and meditation), stress, and mindset (our thoughts and emotions). All can play a positive or negative impact on the body.
In this article we’re going to focus on exercise and a crucial but often overlooked mental piece: your intent.
Exercise is one of the most common factors when discussing improving our health. If you recall from a few articles back we discussed a Swedish study of 23 slightly overweight, generally healthy men who went from being relatively sedentary to exercising twice per week. The researchers at Lund University discovered that in a 6 month time period the men had epigenetically altered 7,000 genes.1 That’s almost one third of the entire human genome and incredible proof of the benefits of exercise at the genetic level.
Note that this study talks about general exercise. The men did a light spin (aerobic) and resistance training workout. Not some special fasted cardio HIIT circuit in a heated room. Just exercise. And it works.
But what if you’re already exercising and not seeing the benefits?
You should bring your focus to a very important and commonly overlooked piece of exercise: the intent with which you perform.
In 2007 Harvard psychologists Alia Crum, Ph.D. and Ellen Langer, Ph.D. performed a study involving 84 hotel maids.2 An initial survey of the maids showed that 67% didn’t think they exercised enough, and 37% believed they didn’t exercise at all. The researchers took measurements of the maids (weight, body fat percentage, and blood pressure among other things) then split them into two groups. One group worked at one hotel and the second group at a different hotel, a split that kept the control group separate from the test group.
The researchers told the test group that the work they were doing as maids exceeded the Surgeon General’s recommendation for daily exercise (30 minutes). They didn’t tell the control group at the second hotel anything. After a month they remeasured the maids and found surprising results: the maids in the test group who had been told their work was adequate exercise had lost an average of 2 pounds, lost body fat percentage, and saw their blood pressure go down. The control group saw no change.
The study shows that all the maids were already exercising but they were just going through the motions of work. When the test group changed the intent of their daily work and believed it was exercise their bodies reacted and changed.
The same is true for you and your workout in the gym. If you go to the gym and just go through the motions you’re leaving huge potential on the table. So find something that you enjoy and can focus on consistently, coached by someone that will keep you, your goals, and your long-term health a priority.
If you’re already exercising regularly you should focus on the intent of your training. Avoid distractions, stay off your phone, and acknowledge that the training you’re doing is going to help you improve. Embrace it. Focus on every aspect of the training session, from each rep to every cardio interval. Focus on your technique. Think about why you’re doing it (to get stronger, more mobile, improve your cardiovascular system, build resilience in your joints and tendons, or whatever your reason may be).
Intent is interesting and extremely important. Where we direct our focus is where results manifest. Everything we do can have a greater impact when coupled with positive thoughts and emotions towards the thing we’re doing. If you believe that the things you’re doing will bring change there is a greater likelihood that change will indeed happen. Just remember the maids.
So if you’re looking to influence your genes and improve your health, exercise is a great place to start and you can amplify your results with a focused intent every day you train. As this article’s title suggested, it is a simple hack but not necessarily easy.
With that in mind (pun intended), stay tuned for our next article as we look directly at the role our thoughts and emotions play in expressing genes in order to answer the question “Can our mindset directly influence our results?”
If you’re interested in applying these learnings to your fitness, career, and life in general but aren’t sure where to start, check out our 8-Week Building Better Humans Mindset Course. You’ll get access to over 60 videos, exercises, 1-on-1 coaching, and interviews with experts in a variety of industries from a Navy Seal to an executive from Proctor and Gamble, CEO’s, mothers, and entrepreneurs as we walk you through a step-by-step process to achieve your full potential.
- Written by The Nate Chambers, co-founder, coach, and positivity guru at Project 13 Gyms