I wonder how many of you read the title of this blog and immediately groaned, “That’s probably me, alright.” Although it’s true that many overeaters carry a gene that makes them more inclined to obesity, your bummed-out response may not be as warranted as you think. Remember that weight is a bio-psycho-social issue.

According to Beating the Obesity Gene (PARADE, 10/12/08), it’s true that genes can predispose you to overweight. The obesity gene, called FTO, “is found in more than half of some populations. And those with two copies of the gene are 70% more likely to be obese than noncarriers.” If your parents and grandparents are/were overweight, you’re a product of genes that have been passed down through generations. Remember, however, that a mere few hundred years ago you would have been happy about this inheritance because, during much of history, carrying extra pounds was a distinct health and longevity benefit.

So let’s say you’re someone who possesses the FTO gene. Does that mean you automatically get to say, “Well, gee, I guess I can’t do anything about my health and should give up.” Au contraire. Research shows that exercise can promote fitness and good health, and even help you avoid weight gain to begin with. Here’s proof: in a study of “a group of more than 700 Amish people…among the most physically active, the gene had virtually no effect on weight. Those who had the gene but maintained high levels of activity weighed about the same as those who didn’t have it.”

I’ve seen this conclusion played out. One friend comes from a family with many obese members. A fat child and adolescent, she only started to exercise in her 30s. Now, in her 60s, she’s healthy and fit and eats relatively normally, playing tennis three times a week, going to the gym regularly, and biking whenever she can. Another example is a brother and sister I know from a family of overweight people. He gave up on his health early on, while she began an exercise routine in her mid-20s—these days she kayaks and runs to stay fit—because she saw the handwriting on the wall.

Exercise is an absolute priority to these women. Sure, they have to exercise somewhat more than the average person to stay fit, but so what? Life is never an even playing field, and many of us may have to do extra to compensate for perceived flaws in our genetic make-up. So rather than lament the genetic hand you’ve been dealt, empower yourself to do whatever exercise is necessary to ensure that you live a healthy life.