The topic of exercise and fat loss is/has been an interesting one. It is a bit counter intuitive that exercise may not be of primary importance when we look at leanness or more specifically, inducing leanness in otherwise overweight individuals. It is a minority view that insulin signalling is more important in leanness than total caloric content or energy expenditure due to activity…but I’m pretty sure that is indeed that case. I really hope the irony of this statement sinks in considering I make my living putting people through workouts!
So can we hang up the O-lifting shoes and swear off Tabata sprints? Can we say good bye to hard exercise and just rely on low carb eating for all our health and lifestyle needs? No, not if we want to be healthy and vital.
Things get murky when we equate leanness with health. The two are correlated but there are points of deviation. In the case of leanness and insulin signaling we have some parameters our genes are born into this world expecting to encounter. Distributed throughout the population are variations that allow for greater or less adaptability to environmental cues such as food (particularly high insulin releasing food) and sleep deprivation. High glycemic load foods and sleep deprivation both induce insulin resistance but some people handle these situations better than others.
What does this have to do with exercise? We are not only born into this world with genes wired for certain types and ratios of foods but our genes are also best expressed when we are active. VERY active. Why? Lets, take a look at gene expression and epigenics to better understand this.
In simple terms, sections of our DNA, called genes, code the proteins that make up our hair, skin, immune cells, hormones and really everything that makes us, “US”. For many years it was assumed that genes function via a simple on/off mechanism, however the story is a bit more complex than that. Environmental cues ranging from food to sunlight to exercise can influence the frequency with wich genes are expressed and taken in total this can have profound influence on our health. If you follow Art Devany’s blog you might recall the “Twins” post he had some time ago. This is a stunning demonstration of virtually identical genes expressed in remarkably different ways due to environmental cues, in this case long distance running vs. track and field training. Many of you may be familiar with the following paper but I think it is important to dredge up some older goodies from time to time and I also wanted to put some importance back into exercise since we’ve been picking on it recently with our look at leanness. I consider this paper from Booth to be absolutely foundational in its proposition that we need to look at the environment under which our genome was formed for clues as to why many of our modern diseases occur. When I first read this paper I made the observation “If you are not exercising you are broken”.
In some ways all of this is complex and paradoxical. We can be lean and exercise, all the while we are sick due to high glycemic foods. Similarly we can be overweight, yet we will improve our health to some degree if we exercise. It’s tough to make a sound bite from this but it might look something like “For leanness eat a low glycemic load diet built around lean proteins and seasonal vegetables and fruits. For health and vitality exercise most days with varying intensities and activities”. Like I said, it sux for a sound bit.
Come on it’s not that bad of a sound bite… t-shirts anyone? “For leanness eat a low glycemic load diet built around lean proteins and seasonal vegetables and fruits. For health and vitality exercise most days with varying intensities and activities!”
It may sell better than my first T-shirt: “Punch me, I’m Irish” but I think we can do better!
Greg Everett says
I guess the first related question that comes up is, How lean is lean enough? That is, with the obviously variation of genetics among individuals, how do we determine what degree of leanness is healthy, natural, and attainable? It’s clear that many individuals, irrespective of how “perfect” their nutrition and exercise are, will never attain extraordinarily low body fat levels. Are these individuals less healthy than their super-lean counterparts, or is this an inconsequential difference? In other words, if Joe’s best possible BF% is 8%, and Jim’s is 5%, if both have reached that natural best, are they of equal health? Or is Joe just out of luck?
Jim (Wilson I presume?) will score all the babes with his uber lean musculature but I don’t think there is any survival advantage there. Performance advantage perhaps depending upon the circumstance. Hunter Gatherer males appeared to run in the 8-12% range so that is likely a good place to be.
R. Alan Hester says
When you say “For health and vitality exercise most days with varying intensities and activities!,” what do you mean. I purposly stoped exercising 6 days a week in favor of a health and logevity bias (see here: http://www.performancemenu.com/forum/showthread.php?t=524). As of late, I have been doing the following: Strength Workout A (pullups, one-arm press, and squats [I took that from you]); Sprints; Strength Workout B(towel-pullups, dips, and power cleans); Mixed-Modal Metcon. Some weeks I do these workouts with one rest day between, sometimes two back to back then a rest day, etc. So, is 4 days considered “most”. Only doing two HARD metcons a week allows me to keep my carbs under control; otherwise, i crave them so badly I would sell my wife’s cats for a twix.
I just wanted something simple, kind of a catchphrase sort of thing. the thought there is simply to be active most days…get out and move! I don’t see this at odds with the health and longevity bias you mentioned at all.
How about this:
“A low-glycemic diet; it’s what’s for dinner.”
Send me the checks when the dough pours in.
The first $1 I make from that, i will send it to you!
Loren Cordain had an article in his newsletter with analysis of hunter gathers BMIs from data he has available – if memory serves something like several hundred individuals. The BMI range for the lot was about 19-23 which would line up with 8-12pc fat approx.
PS thanks for the blog. Your readership is truly worldwide.
William Hunter says
Whenever I get too wordy I figure it’s haiku time.
Low Glyc for leanness
Paleo foods are the tools
Crossfit for Vigor!
William digging-the-pepperonata-nightshades-be- damned Hunter
I think most warrior cultures embraced poetry as well…good stuff.
Steven Low says
“It is a minority view that insulin signalling is more important in leanness than total caloric content or energy expenditure due to activity…but I’m pretty sure that is indeed that case.”
The one problem I have with that which I am sure you know is that exercise DOES help with insulin sensitivity because of depletion of muscle glycogen. Eating a low glycemic load also has the same effect except on the opposite side because now the glucose levels are low and the body needs to be sensitive enough to use it. Same with protein intake.. 1g/lbs will help more but if you’re only eating .25g/lbs your body will use what little protein there is much more effectively.
In any case, gene expression as you know is extremely similar due to stresses placed on the body and muscles. There’s so many types of up and downregulation which are all very similar when you look at the type of stimulus which is very interesting. I don’t really like broad generalizations much, but the human body can sure fit into a lot of the ones we can come up with.
Anyway, you came out to the right conclusion in the end though so I won’t be too hard on you. 🙂
here is another one for you Rob
EFFECTS OF 30-MINUTES OF AEROBIC EXERCISE ON GENE EXPRESSION IN HUMAN NEUTROPHILS.
Some positive and some negative changes by the look of it
Good stuff. Similar to hormesis, some of the alterations are tough to call good or bad other than relative to another situation. Great find!
What’s gene expression?
I think it’s some kind of fashion deal…French most likely.
wow – you are a movie star now! Great video on the Xfit site to day!
I think that is the closest I will come to stardom but it was fun!