What can YOU do to become faster than a speeding bullet at protecting your heart, more powerful than a locomotive at preventing diabetes, cancer and a jiggly middle?
Your Superman skill is ... exercise. New evidence shows that by moving your body, you can turn on specific genes and make your life better (less disease, less disability, more vigor).
Yep, the big news is that exercise does way more than torching that breakfast burrito and toning your rear view. A new Swedish study of inactive people who started exercising found using muscles activates genes that promote fat-burning, prevent disease and disability, and boosts energy and brain power.
The benefits kick in within minutes of your first steps, so you win every time you move, whether it's a lunchtime stroll, an all-day bike ride or dancing to your favorite tunes. In fact, the study has experts around the world agreeing with us YOU Docs: Physical activity is great and enjoyable medicine; we like to call it Lifestyle Medicine.
And this “gene therapy” isn't science fiction. We're not talking about freaky DNA changes that'll boost your IQ 100 points or transform you into a leaping lizard. Your basic genetic code, handed down from your ancestors (thanks, Mom and Dad!), stays the same.
Whether the genes are turned on or not is apparently up to you. Not all genes are active. YOU have the power to turn on the good guys and tone down the not-so-helpful types. Some of the gene-flipping benefits from exercise are:
Mega-protection against cancer. Exercise revs up more than 100 genes that guard against cancer. For instance, three hours of activity a week boosts 109 protect-you-from-cancer genes and squelches 75 cancer-promoting genes in guys with low-grade prostate cancer.
More fat-burning brown fat. Exercise activates the genes that boost levels of a newly discovered hormone called irisin. This stuff turns bumpy, bulgy white fat into easier-to-use brown fat. That's good news, because brown fat may help protect against diabetes and obesity.
A younger heart. Physical activity turns on genes that help heart-muscle cells divide; this helps your heart work better and protects against heart failure.
A leaner, cleaner liver. Sticking with a regular exercise routine turns off genes that encourage extra fat to move into your liver, and turns on genes that produce proteins that tell this fat invader to pack up and leave. That's big news, because today one in three adults has a fatty liver; slimming it down protects against diabetes and heart disease.
But guess what? Exercise isn't your only tool for do-it-yourself genetic engineering. A diet devoid of the five food felons (saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar, syrup and any grain that isn't 100 percent whole), plus managing your stress, keeps the disease-fighting and energy-giving genes turned on, too. Combine those with exercise, and you can switch on a whopping 500 healthy genes. Here's how:
Aim for 30 minutes a day. The guys who walked or otherwise worked out for a half-hour, six days a week in addition to following a smart, produce-packed diet, actually switched on hundreds of healthy genes after three months. But remember, the benefits begin within minutes of your first move; you don't have to wait 'til you've lost weight or inches to get real health benefits.
Add good-for-your-genes goodies. And that would be ... plenty of fruit, vegetables, 100 percent whole grains, plus DHA omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein such as soy or skinless chicken breast, or healthy protein like walnuts or Macadamia nuts. A steady diet of full-fat dairy, red meat, sugar and syrups, and fried foods, turn on energy-sapping, killer genes.
Say ahhhh. Daily stress-soothers like yoga, meditation and calm breathing are part of the good-gene prescription. But you can substitute anything else that tames tension from simple stretching to laughing with your spouse, kids or grandkids.
Love coffee? Have a cup. No kidding! A venti latte's no replacement for a power walk, but it turns out that straight black java also switches on your good genes.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.