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Can You Go the Distance?

 

  • Your ability to perform endurance activities is dependent on a number of factors. Genetics plays a role but so does environment and training.
  • Endurance activities – also known as cardiovascular exercises – are those which raise your heart rate and accelerate your breathing when they are done for sustained periods of time.
  • How long you can sustain this type of exercise before running out of steam is a result of how effectively oxygen can get to your muscles.
  • Individuals who have greater amounts of hemoglobin are more likely to excel at endurance type sports and exercises. The question, however, is whether higher levels of hemoglobin can be attributed to genetics or whether it is the result of training.

How is your ability when it comes to endurance exercise such as running, cycling or swimming? Would you say that your performance is better than average? Or do you struggle with these types of activities?

Your ability to perform endurance activities is dependent on a number of factors. Genetics plays a role but so does environment and training. That means, even if your DNA composition isn’t exactly ideal for this type of training, you can still reap the health benefits and improve your performance with time and training.

While endurance workouts can be gruelling, they don’t have to be. Even a brisk walk on a daily basis can help improve your cardiovascular health and lower your chances of certain diseases.

HOW ENDURANCE TRAINING WORKS

Endurance activities – also known as cardiovascular exercises – are those which raise your heart rate and accelerate your breathing when they are done for sustained periods of time. This type of training is a great way to burn calories, lose weight, and improve your overall health and fitness.

How long you can sustain this type of exercise before running out of steam is a result of how effectively oxygen can get to your muscles. At the beginning of your workout, you breathe deeply, so it is easy for your muscles to get the oxygen they need. As your body gets tired however, your breathing becomes more shallow and energy cannot be produced as efficiently.

NATURE OR NURTURE?

Oxygen is carried to the muscles via a substance in the blood called hemoglobin. Individuals who have greater amounts of hemoglobin are more likely to excel at endurance type sports and exercises. The question, however, is whether higher levels of hemoglobin can be attributed to genetics or whether it is the result of training.

An argument for innate genetic ability for cardiovascular sports is that for over a decade track in the Olympics has been dominated by people of African descent. In particular, Olympic running has been dominated by Kenyans and of those Kenyans, the majority have been Kalenjins who are a relatively small African tribe of approximately 3 million people.[i] 

This would suggest that capacity for endurance is determined, at least in part, by genetics. In fact, there have been a number of scientific studies which have confirmed this.

One such study was conducted by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute in which they found multiple genes that affect hemoglobin concentration.[ii]

MORE IMPORTANT THAN DNA

Despite there being some obvious links between genetics and endurance ability, consistent training is still by far the most important factor in determining how well a person will do in these types of activities.

For a person to become an expert or top performer in any area, it is said that they require 10,000 hours of practice.[iii] Looking back at Kenyan runners – they may indeed have a genetic advantage, however the presence or lack of a certain gene would not be enough to make them gold medal winners.

They still need to put in hours and hours of practice.

This is both good news and bad news for the rest of us. The good news is that regardless of your particular genetic makeup, excelling in endurance sports is still possible. The bad news is that you will have to put in the time and hard work to get there!

References:

[i] http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/genes-and-running-performance

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19862010

[iii] http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2013/08/14/is-it-genes-or-the-gym-that-makes-great-athletes-qa-with-author-of-the-sports-gene/