Exercise Trumps Genes for Longevity

By now I’m probably sounding like a broken record about how important exercise is to all aspects of your life, but here I go again…

Although this is not specifically about cancer, an article recently published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity (Posis et al., 2022) scored another point for the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle.

This study was conducted at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science (University of California, San Diego), where the researchers examined the effect of physical activity/sedentary time on longevity in women. The 5400+ study participants spanned the entire range of genetic predispositions for longer or shorter lives. You can read a synopsis of the research here.

When in doubt, keep moving.

The results of this prospective study (2012-2020), while not surprising in the grand scheme of things, can be considered a wake-up call.

Regardless of their genetic predisposition, women who engaged in higher levels of activity had a lower mortality risk and those who were more sedentary had a higher risk. This is important, because it’s tempting to think that if your family members are long-lived, you will be too. However, your own activity levels do matter.

In addition, being physically active was effective in extending the lifespans even of those women whose genetics suggested a shorter life.

This can be considered promising news: you do have some control over your lifespan. Even when you’ve been dealt what may seem like a losing hand in terms of longevity or disease, providing your body with the supportive behaviors that it needs and deserves still makes things better.

It’s easy to forget this when we focus on the negatives in life. And while we do need to acknowledge our hardships and allow ourselves time to grieve for our losses, making choices that benefit our bodies and minds is a sign of respect for ourselves.

So go ahead, soak those tootsies…then get back outside for a walk. And don’t stop.

Unlike a glass of wine or a rich dessert, commonly considered an “indulgence”, self-care in the form of moving ourselves, step by step, day by day, closer to a healthier lifestyle is the kindest, most loving indulgent act you can ever do for yourself.

What one little thing can you do today that you didn’t offer to yourself yesterday that will move the needle further towards a more active life?



“Physical Activity May Have a Stronger Role than Genes in Longevity” by Yadira Galindo, UC San Diego News Center, August 24, 2022, https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/physical-activity-may-have-a-stronger-role-than-genes-in-longevity.

Posis et al., (2022) Associations of Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity and Sedentary Time With All-Cause Mortality by Genetic Predisposition for Longevity, J Aging Phys Act, https://doi.org/10.1123/japa.2022-0067.

Regaining Control Through Mindful Living

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve really enjoyed the Coursera course, “Engineering Health: Introduction to Yoga and Physiology“, which I highly recommend. One of the recurring themes of the class that I’ve found particularly relevant is that of effecting incremental and meaningful epigenetic change through yoga and meditation.

The class lectures went through the physiological mechanisms by which this happens, and this information would be reason enough to incorporate mindfulness and breath-to-movement in one’s life. But for someone who’s experienced cancer, there’s something even more important: a sense of control.

For me, the most terrifying part of my cancer diagnosis was the lack of control over what was happening to me. First, my body had turned on me by cultivating a tumor, the ultimate goal of which was to take over my organs and kill me. Then, my doctors were giving me drugs that by design would kill certain parts of me, with the intention of taking out the tumor before it spread to really important parts of me (brain? liver? heart?).

My body was a battleground in the war between my rogue cells and modern medicine. I had to sit there and take collateral damage if I wanted a chance at survival.

Disclaimer: So I feel the need to stress here that we do not yet know how to reliably prevent the formation of cancerous tumors, but there are things that we can do to greatly lessen the risk. I’m willing to bet that managing stress would have a powerful impact on prevention.

While I did begin meditation at that time, had I started learning to deal with my anxiety and accompanying physiological responses years ago, I might have been able to sidestep the disease. There is science to this which I will cover in a later post, but my doctors *hate* it when I postulate possible causes of my tumor since if we could truly pinpoint the cause, we’d be able to cure the disease. However, given what we do know about stress and inflammation, I can guarantee that my stress response did not help in keeping me cancer-free!

In the Coursera class, Dr. Ali Seidenstein (NYU) explains, among other things, how the small positive changes that arise from learning to control the stress response by applying yoga and meditation affect your genetics. And this is key. While you’re born with a certain set of genes, the science of epigenetics describes how you can affect gene activity (think, turning a gene on or off) and thereby have a different outcome from someone else with the same gene.

Finally! Something that *I* can do that provides a rare sense of control in an uncontrollable situation! For a cancer survivor, this offers a nugget of hope to hold on to in the face of continuing medications that may or may not help your survival. Medicine is tested on a variety of individuals but there’s no guarantee that their success will translate into your own (news flash: cancer = no guarantees, period). But knowing that you can engage in behaviors that, when applied over time, will actually benefit you on a genetic level…that, my friends, is priceless.