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By Dr. Frank B. Wyatt


BE FITNESS │ SPORTS


What is not hard to ignore is the fact that a specific genetic make-up is behind success in any venue. You will not see a short, rotund individual in the NBA (National Basketball Association) nor will you find a 1.95 m tall person weighing in at a solid 148 kg winning an Olympic Marathon. In addition to the regional offerings, one must look at the socio- economic factor as well.


Does regional exposure to specific sports change the human genome to facilitate success in those sports?


I will never forget when I first moved to Colorado and watching some young boys playing catch. Their throwing mechanics were all wrong. Throwing mechanics are complicated and if not learned early, may never be established. It is at a certain developmental age that if the mechanics are not there, they may never be there. Subsequently while there is a professional baseball team in Colorado (Rockies), many of the colleges do not compete in collegiate baseball. What they do well in Colorado is ski. Children are exposed early to this winter sport and as noted during international competitions, many of the hometowns of the elite skiers in the US are in Colorado. One must ask, does regional exposure to specific sports change the human genome to facilitate success in those sports?


To answer the above question, one would need to go back several generations to determine if genetic alterations to those sports was recorded in the history of a peoples in a specific region. One now famous study involving a Native South American genome involved two groups from the same gene pool. One group, still in South America maintained their “hunter-gatherer” status in the wilderness while the other group migrated to the United States and became financially successful in the casino business. This occurred over several generations. However, the differences were astounding in that the hunter-gatherers were extremely healthy and fit while their US counterparts were measured as one of the most obese groups within the US. This may not reflect a genotype change but possibly a phenotype alteration brought on by obvious environmental conditions (i.e., money, fatty foods, sedentary lifestyle).


Would generations of families living at altitude, utilizing walking and running as a primary means of transportation, along with a moderate food source be a mechanism behind the genetic make-up of the Kenyan runners that are so successful in long distance running events? I personally think it would be hard to ignore.


In the aforementioned example of US skiers, it is not hard to recognize that ski resort towns are expensive places to live. Add to that the fact that skiing in general is an expensive sport. Logically one can easily see that those involved in skiing on a regular basis come from affluent families. Because I am also involved in cycling, I realize that this is another sport that involves a fair amount of finances to do on a competitive level. Bicycles today are extremely expensive and when you add expensive clothing, maintenance, travel cost and race registration fees it all adds up to an expensive sport.


Many of the sports offered in the US are done so through the school system or local township. These include the basic three I mention above (i.e., football, basketball, baseball) as well as school offerings of soccer, cross-country running, track and field, women’s volleyball, swimming, etc. Because of the public offering of these sports to students and youth, the cost is minimal to the families. When cost is reduced, there is a good chance that kids will be exposed to these sports early on. Early exposure is a primary criteria for continued development in that sport and the rise to the level of elite status. The level of influence based on region, socio-economic considerations, genetic components and the overall will of the individual to succeed is not just hard to ignore, but almost impossible to quantify.


To summarize: regional influences over human genetic alterations are a consideration of indigenous people over centuries of habitation and adaptation to that region. Modern man/woman are allowed a considerably larger degree of travel and are thus influenced to a greater degree by regional differences. The greater influence today comes from the social differences seen within regions as well as the economic considerations of exposure to specific sporting venues. Our elite athletes today carry with them the genetics of their ancestors, but are also greatly influenced by the region of their up-bringing. What we as a society must address is not the elite level athlete and the nature vs. nurture question, but rather what ancestral factors will allow each one of us to succeed in a sporting venue choice that facilitates success. When we (all of us) answer that question, the level of activity among the masses will increase exponentially. And that, is a way to “nurture” the health and well-being of all.


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