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Can't fit in the jeans because of the genes.
September 7, 2011 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Couch Potatoes Explained - Missing Key Genes May Be Cause for Lack of Resolve to Exercise, Researchers Find. 'You may think your lack of resolve to get off the couch to exercise is because you're lazy, but McMaster University researchers have discovered it may be you are missing key genes.' 'The research appears in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.'

'Gregory Steinberg, associate professor of medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in Metabolism and Obesity' 'said the findings are important for individuals who find it difficult to exercise, such as the obese, asthmatics and people in wheelchairs. Their inability to exercise may lead to other complications such as diabetes and heart disease.
The study, he thinks, has a message for couch potatoes. "As we remove activity from our lives due to emerging technology, the base level of fitness in the population is going down and that is reducing the mitochondria in people's muscles. This in turn makes it so much harder for people to start exercising."

Steinberg himself runs or bikes to work. "It is the only way that I can manage to make sure I stay fit."'
posted by VikingSword (67 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
'You may think your lack of resolve to get off the couch to exercise is because you're lazy, but McMaster University researchers have discovered it may be you are missing key genes.'

I'm not a University researcher, but inasmuch as all I am is a physical expression of my genetic material, what's the difference?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:58 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I KNEW IT!!!!!!!!
posted by symbioid at 1:59 PM on September 7, 2011


Hmmm. So Science (or science reporting) discovers "it sucks to be you?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:59 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes! Here's my newest excuse! Had been working on the last few pounds, but who cares.
posted by Sweetmag at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2011


You may think your lack of resolve to get off the couch to exercise is because you're lazy

Or, y'know, you might just not give a damn.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you are going to make a Metafilter post about a recent scientific finding, please please please include a primary source link. Press releases and science news sources are not the way to consume scientific research.
posted by IjonTichy at 2:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Just to be clear, this is a mouse study.

So when you read the press release, you should mentally replace the word "you" with the word "mice".

Makes it less compelling, no?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not a University researcher, but inasmuch as all I am is a physical expression of my genetic material, what's the difference?
I would answer this but I can't be arsed don't have the requisite genes.
posted by fullerine at 2:04 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gah, this right here is why I hate science reporting. There may be a specific link between the research being done and, well, anything, but it's all glossed over. This article gives no information beyond that fact that mice who are bred to have malfunctioning muscles don't run as well as mice who have not been bred to have malfunctioning muscles, and then tries to tie it to obesity in humans.

(not snarking at you, VikingSword, just fed up with the current state of journalism.)
posted by lekvar at 2:09 PM on September 7, 2011


I just assume that my genes are fucking me over in ways I can't even begin to fathom. All I can do is work with the limited agency that I have. It so happens that I at least appear to have direct control over how I choose to spend my free time. If you want to argue that my free time and free will are just illusory, then we're getting into metaphysics, right?
posted by naju at 2:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


please please please include a primary source link

Unfortunately it's behind a paywall.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:10 PM on September 7, 2011


I'd like to suggest that it was otherwise, but no, in my case, it's because I'm just really fucking lazy.
posted by quin at 2:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you are going to make a Metafilter post about a recent scientific finding, please please please include a primary source link. Press releases and science news sources are not the way to consume scientific research.

I actually gave thought to this, before posting any science finding (and I post quit a few). An FPP on Metafilter addresses itself to a lay audience. Even if you are a scientist, you are not likely a researcher in all of science. Therefore, simply posting a link to the research paper might theoretically be useful only to those particular scientists focused on the field - but then, that would likely be superfluous, because more likely than not, a specialist in the field would already be aware of the study and posting a link on Metafilter would be of zero use to him/her. That leaves the lay audience. The vast majority of people need some context to the study, therefore a press release that accurately quotes one of the researchers involved in the study explaining the point of the study in such a way that it's understandable to a lay audience, is far more useful than simply dumping a direct link to the study. Believe it or not - there is a very good reason why science press releases exist. Yes, there exist a lot of bad releases, and even worse recaps by journalists - but that's a problem of particulars, not of the concept. And therefore the remedy is to pick the sources carefully. This is an example of the latter - not something ripped from CNN headlines. Now, for a small fraction of the people who would be interested in pursuing this further, the point of the FPP is alerting them to the existence of the study - they can then take it from here and look up the study themselves. You're welcome.
posted by VikingSword at 2:15 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


'You may think your lack of resolve to get off the couch to exercise is because you're lazy, but McMaster University researchers have discovered it may be you are missing key genes.'

I'm not a University researcher, but inasmuch as all I am is a physical expression of my genetic material, what's the difference?


My thoughts exactly. The sentence doesn't even make any sense. It's like, 'You may think your attraction to the same sex is because you're gay, but researchers have discovered it may be genetic.' Huh?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:18 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You may think that you're short, but science now suggests that the fact that you lost your legs in the war is to blame.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:19 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I love the title to this post.

Arte Johnson best expressed my reaction to the content.
posted by bearwife at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2011


My thoughts exactly. The sentence doesn't even make any sense. It's like, 'You may think your attraction to the same sex is because you're gay, but researchers have discovered it may be genetic.' Huh?

In our culture, there are certain things it's ok to blame you for, and certain things it's less ok. Even if they amount to the same thing, phrasing it in terms of genetics makes it "not your fault".
posted by knave at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, I'm willing to bet most couch potatoes don't have this genetic deficiency. Personally, when I get into exercising, I can run & bike for miles. That doesn't change the fact that I want to be a couch potato and I can be a rather lazy person.

In other words, interesting niche science finding, blown all out of proportion by bad science reporting.
posted by knave at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2011


Well to be fair - if the study has bearing on humans (and that's a big if), then what makes this useful is that it brings important information for health officials. We are all urged to exercise. Advice is often dispensed without admitting to individual differences which may make the advice moot. It is useful to know, for example for a GP, that a patient has difficulty exercising that go beyond mental issues, and therefore different strategies may be necessary. In other words, there definitely could be real-life consequences to this information.
posted by VikingSword at 2:25 PM on September 7, 2011


So when you read the press release, you should mentally replace the word "you" with the word "mice".

Researchers have discovered that you actually like peanut butter far more than the commonly assumed cheese, and that it can be used to encourage you to solve mazes faster, or conversely, to lure you into deadly traps.

Now that I think of it, that describes me pretty well.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


...the base level of fitness in the population is going down and that is reducing the mitochondria in people's muscles. This in turn makes it so much harder for people to start exercising.

That I think is the takeaway message, not that you should blame genetics if you don't want to get off the couch.

Gyms, and elliptical machines in particular, can rot in hell. Yard work and sports can follow them. I enjoy walking (and occasionally jogging if I'm feeling great), but only if the weather is nice (or a little too cool and I'm bundled up). Hot and humid = no walking. Snow & ice = no walking. Some time after either of those conditions = not much walking.

What's really gotten me moving though is joining a taiko drumming group. It's not just tapping on a drum, it's full-on beating that drum with big wooden sticks, and it has more in common with martial arts and dance than, say, piano lessons. It's physically demanding, and while regular rehearsals and performances aren't consistent cardio, there are actually taiko-based fitness programs in a few places. Warmups mean I'm doing at least some amount of jumping jacks and stretching per week that I wouldn't do otherwise, even if the nature of the rehearsals that week isn't demanding.

And it's some great motivation, knowing that you're not just going to the gym but actually preparing to participate in a show that's going to spread joy and excitement to the audience and you're going to look badass while doing it.

I've lost weight, built muscle, lowered my blood sugar and had a hell of a good time doing it. I've even done a bit of weight training to help out with my endurance on oodaiko. (Want a workout? Take half-pound wooden sticks and bash something in front of your face as hard as you can with overhand swings repeatedly in a steady rhythm for six full minutes.)
posted by Foosnark at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope the pill for giving couch potatoes willpower to exercise is released before I turn into a creaky ball of fat.
posted by Memo at 2:27 PM on September 7, 2011


I love exercise.
posted by cashman at 2:28 PM on September 7, 2011


Just to be clear, this is a mouse study.

mice don't even HAVE couches. wtf.
posted by elizardbits at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [21 favorites]


Don't try to slap some medical label on me - I'm just a lazy bastard, and proud of it.
posted by davelog at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tell Me No Lies: Unfortunately it's behind a paywall.

I have access to this - if anyone wants a copy of the paper, send me a MeMail.
posted by Condroidulations! at 2:30 PM on September 7, 2011


Sigh. So what about me, eh? I should have left for the gym already, but I'm just sitting here reading this page. I don't even have my shoes on. I know I'm going to go, but that's because I don't have a hint of an excuse like I have a headache. Or it's raining. Or I had to go to the dentist this morning :(

Still. 8 out of 10 times I go. But every. single. fucking. time. it is a battle to force myself. It won't be so bad once I get there, I may even enjoy it (I usually do) and I'll fell good this evening-- loose and energetic and not so creaky in my bones. But what I really, really want to do is sit here now and read this. Maybe have a candy bar. Just sit in this comfy chair and watch videos and laugh at goofy stuff and think about world problems.

Nope. I'm getting up and going. But under protest.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:30 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have access to this - if anyone wants a copy of the paper, send me a MeMail.

Psst. look up
posted by cashman at 2:34 PM on September 7, 2011


That leaves the lay audience.

Or lay-about audience.

It is the usual pointless science writing, but my new wallpaper is great.
posted by carping demon at 2:35 PM on September 7, 2011


let me tell you my views on Personal Responsibility:

(grinding noises, banging, dog barking in the distance)
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:36 PM on September 7, 2011


So what about me, eh?

Exercise is hard. Sitting around watching TV and eating snacks is easy.

Do we really need SCIENCE! to "prove" this?
posted by P.o.B. at 2:52 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the discussion section of the paper:
Given the undetectable levels of skeletal muscle AMPK
activity, we were surprised to find that β1β2M-KO mice had normal
muscle weights and were not obese.


Seems to ruin that whole obesity correlation, which was carefully not suggested by the article either. This study proves that lazy does not equal fat. I am sure there are others that prove fat does not equal lazy. Back to square one.

I wonder if there's a gene that we can tweak to make science journalists more interested in the science.
posted by quanta and qualia at 3:02 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, this is a mouse study.

So when you read the press release, you should mentally replace the word "you" with the word "mice".


Hmmm. Let me try this:

So Science (or science reporting) discovers "it sucks to be mice?"

That is true! Science has spent decades proving this!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:21 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Geneticists release study finding no evidence of free will or personal agency; Philosophy departement decides to shut down. Biology Department said they totally predicted that was going to happen.
posted by GuyZero at 3:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


the science news cycle?
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:26 PM on September 7, 2011


So, because we may have found a gene, or lack thereof, for lazyness we can change the name?
posted by Vindaloo at 3:38 PM on September 7, 2011


I think I'll file this one in the same bin as the "chicken flu makes you fat" study. The round one.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:40 PM on September 7, 2011


tl;.... d....... d...... (pant pant) dr
posted by hal9k at 3:41 PM on September 7, 2011


The Onion predicts the future yet again.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2011


My thoughts exactly. The sentence doesn't even make any sense. It's like, 'You may think your attraction to the same sex is because you're gay, but researchers have discovered it may be genetic.' Huh?

It's not called the nurture-nurture debate. There are plenty of environmental influences that can affect the expression of particular genes. For all their similarities, identical twins can have profound differences, too (e.g. only one of them gay).

Try this: "you may think you can't breathe when you're running because you haven't exercised in a long time, but researchers have discovered it may be genetic." Plenty of people think of laziness as a lack of mental toughness that can be cured. As with, say, all things human and biological, it's almost surely a combination of genetic traits and environment.
posted by one_bean at 3:56 PM on September 7, 2011


That bin isn't round, it's just genetically disposed to consuming trash.
posted by maryr at 4:04 PM on September 7, 2011


The real question is, what exactly is 'lazy'? Is it that you /can/ get off the couch and move but just choose not to? Or is it that the very thought of all that exercise feels about as doable to you as sticking pins into your own eyes? Is it just not caring either way?
posted by Malice at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2011


The real question is, what exactly is 'lazy'?

Or the real question is - does it fucking matter? If you're health is in a deteriorating state and exercise is the one sure way to improve it then the reason does not matter one bit. Everyone has to get up off the couch, and just like every single thing in this world for some it's easier to do then it is for others. Interesting? Perhaps. Matter? No. Everyone has to put their time in.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


During times of famine the uncontrollable urge to recreationally jog is a severe evolutionary disadvantage.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This week I had a strange desire to exercise and go outside. I blame it on the meds.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:31 PM on September 7, 2011


furiousxgeorge: But if you're motivated to go out for a jog maybe you also chase down something to kill and eat, you might do better than the guy back in the cave that didn't feel like getting out of bed today. There probably wasn't much room for depressiness or laziness in our evolution. I imagine starving is a pretty good motivator.
posted by floam at 4:41 PM on September 7, 2011


I'm just going lie here on my couch and stick pins in my eyes. Anything is better than apathy.
posted by cromagnon at 4:42 PM on September 7, 2011


I have a friend who is a fitness fiend. He's not a body builder or muscled-hulk, just someone who constantly needs to move and enjoys exercise. Other people talk about the endorphin rush or whatever they get from exercising.

None of this happens for me. Exercise is a tedious chore, and even when I was something resembling fit it never gave me a feeling of well-being or any sort of minor high. On a day-to-day basis, I honestly can't say I felt better when somewhat fit than I do as a bag of liquified cheetos.

I think there being a difference between the way my friend's muscles and exercise reward system works and mine.
posted by maxwelton at 4:44 PM on September 7, 2011


I imagine starving is a pretty good motivator.

Correct.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2011


Heading to the locksmith to pick up some of those key genes. Oh wait I can't get off the couch.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:56 PM on September 7, 2011


Do we really need SCIENCE! to "prove" this?

The point of this paper is not that eating snacks is easy and that exercise is hard. That's just ScienceDirect's cute but unhelpful framing.

Here's my understanding of the paper. We now that two proteins, AMPK β1 and β2, control the number of mitochondria in your muscle. Mitochondria are required for aerobic metabolism. Nobody knew this before because the two proteins compensate for one another's absence, so you have to delete them both before you see the effect. It was previously known that AMPK-depleted mice have low tolerance for exercise; this study suggests that the reduction in muscle mitochondria explains this phenomenon. Another interesting thing is that while it seems like these two proteins are master regulators of aerobic metabolism in muscle, apparently unlike other AMPKs they do not affect things like insulin sensitivity or fiber-type switching (fast vs. slow-twitch muscles).

Actually, if you were one of these mice and you really wanted to get in shape, it's not clear that exercise would ever produce any results, because the AMPKs are sensors. Roughly, they sense how much energy you have left in the cell. If the amount of "empty batteries" (AMP) gets too high, they turn on, stimulating things like fat burning or making mitochondria. The chain of causation is so clear here that you can feed mice a molecule that looks like AMP, and they get fitter without doing anything. That molecule is an "exercise mimetic." (No seriously, they really exist! Don't try this at home.) But if you never have the sensor to begin with, you might never make appreciably more mitochondria in response to exercise.

Probably, the majority of people don't struggle with exercise in precisely the same way as these mice. As far as I can tell, the issue isn't really the motivation of the mice to run, it's that their muscles fatigue very early when they try. As I mentioned above, it may also be true that they can't get any better. After all, they lack the proteins that sense low energy and send the appropriate signal to make mitochondria. And while there may certainly be rare cases, it's unlikely that many people have defects in both of the relevant AMPK proteins. This is a really extreme effect on exercise tolerance, so you can imagine it would have had a big cost in the wild.

However, often a scientific study is interesting, not necessarily because it's going to help you personally live a better life right this second, but because it helps show how a complicated system works -- like metabolism in mammals. Yes, of course studies like this have direct applications too, which I don't want to diminish: the authors talk about drugs to help bedridden patients and people with severe asthma maintain their health (not everyone can get up off the couch, after all). But studies of human metabolism go way beyond exercise pills; for example, AMPKs also repress cell proliferation and fat synthesis, two things cancer cells need far out of proportion to normal cells. If you find that connection too handwavey, there is more and more evidence coming out that metformin, a diabetes drug, actually reduces the incidence of several types of cancer.

This study isn't really about whether or not your genes control whether you like exercising. It's more concerned with learning how metabolism is controlled. Perhaps I'm biased -- I mean, my occupation is SCIENCE!. But most of this tl;dr monstrosity is really me trying to say that I think that problem #2 is a lot more interesting, and it doesn't make sense to judge this study based on how you feel about #1.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Great, but you seemed to miss point. How does any of that change the fact that people should exercise and keep a proper diet to maintain optimal health?
posted by P.o.B. at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2011


How does any of that change the fact that people should exercise and keep a proper diet to maintain optimal health?

My point is that the study doesn't really talk about that. The medical benefits of exercise are clear and undisputed. I think this is still an important piece of work, but for different reasons.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:40 PM on September 7, 2011


VikingSword: In other words, there definitely could be real-life consequences to this information.

Sure, but that's a bit different than the snappy headline here: Small Fraction of Couch Potatoes Maybe Explained.
posted by knave at 5:42 PM on September 7, 2011


Here's the clue that obesity is probably not a genetic problem in the vast majority of cases: The same genes have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and obesity is only a sweeping problem in the last couple decades. Genetic changes don't happen that quickly, environmental changes do.
posted by knave at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2011


obesity absolutely is a class issue.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:05 PM on September 7, 2011


Here's the clue that obesity is probably not a genetic problem in the vast majority of cases: The same genes have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and obesity is only a sweeping problem in the last couple decades. Genetic changes don't happen that quickly, environmental changes do.

Imagine 1% of the population has a mutant gene. This gene makes you sensitive to chemical X, but chemical X isn't usually around, so it's not an issue; maybe this mutant gene is even an advantage in some environments. One day, lots of chemical X gets vented into the atmosphere. Whether or not you survive in that new atmosphere is definitely a matter of genetics. You're exactly correct that environmental changes are much faster than genetic changes, but whether particular genes help or hurt you depends on the environment.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:26 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


obesity absolutely is a class issue.

Let's just say it's biosocioeconomic
posted by fuq at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh man let's not though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:36 PM on September 7, 2011


First of all, this garbage is bunk, mice-stories <> human stories.

However, my heart of heart longs for it to be true, in terms that I've always been chunky and hated exercise. Not 'disliked' but 'hated.' If there is something as such as runners 'euphoria', I have always had the opposite: red burning flesh, and lingering fatigue.

I wish I could play into class fantasia I read here, saying we've always been poor and blighted because of our horrible bulk, but that would be patently false. Our family has a ranching/construction emprire spawning five SW states and five generations. My grandfather was 6'6" and 450 and lived until 95. Our family has serious investment in both energy producing and ranching firms at present.

This is an interesting mice study, which suggests that certain excercise patterns may be hereditary. That it gives some comfort to me is secondary. That it challenges the idea that 'thinness=moral purity=god given righteousness' makes me happy. Not every human being is designed to be a marathon runner.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:59 PM on September 7, 2011


As a member of the obesity research field, let me just say for the record: If you think it's all caused by or explained by one gene, you're wrong. It's a network. It involves many, many signaling molecules, most of which are also involved in other systems as well and generally have different actions on different sites based on many different factors. There are elements of hedonics, environmental influences, maternal effects, effects due to prior exposure, aspects of addiction, and suggestions that changes in fat content can alter normal functioning of many components, at both a tissue and a cellular level.

"Eat less, move more" is a nice start. But it's also too simplistic in many ways. On the plus side, trying to figure out one small part of this massive mess is keeping me employed. Hopefully the next "COUCH POTATO GENE FOUND!" headline will feature my own work. The last one I saw before this was discussing my mentor's studies. It's funny seeing how badly the science reporters mess it up, especially knowing how careful my mentor was to not overstate anything.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:33 PM on September 7, 2011


are they not modern sports fans?
posted by raymorphic at 1:06 AM on September 8, 2011


See also.
posted by ericbop at 9:05 AM on September 8, 2011


The potato genes obviously come from eating potatoes. Is it possible for the couch genes to be absorbed by osmosis? (They do go straight to my thighs.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2011


Or they could just be lazy slobs.
posted by Decani at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2011


When I had a roommate, I discovered that by jogging I had a great excuse to leave and spend time alone. I did it happily every single night, and looked and felt great. But I was lonely and frustrated.

Now, I love my home, roommate and pets, and have no desire to leave them. The 30+ minutes to an hour that I used to run represent precious free time (I work long hours) that I would rather spend in their company. No room at home for exercise machines or yoga mats, alas.

Needless to say, I no longer look great in tight jeans, but I'm happier. Not sure how that fits into a study.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2011


I've been lazy and not fat. I've been lazy and fat. I've been not lazy and not fat. I've been not lazy and fat.

In other words, no correlation between my laziness and my obesity. Now if here was a correlation, I think it would be more accurate to assert that obesity was controlling the level of activity, rather than vice versa.
posted by BurnChao at 2:11 PM on September 8, 2011


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