Friday, September 16, 2011

Genes, Self-Esteem, and Exercise

In a recent UCLA study, a variant in the oxytocin receptor gene has demonstrated different expressions of empathy and social skills. In their study, those with one type of variant were predisposed towards depression. Oxytocin is generally related to certain types of outgoing behavior, generousity, and is also known as the "cuddling gene" (from orginal tests that oxytocin made rats cuddle). The study sheds light on an issue that certain people may not have the same fundemental psychological tools to cope with stress and other life challenges, leaving them predisposed and tending toward symptoms of depression.

It's important to note that, according to this study: nobody is doomed to fail. It just means that you have to stimulate your own production of oxytocin. In a study at SUNY Stoney Brook, scientists were able to link dopamine and oxytocin production to people who had a real goal (specifically: this study was about "falling in love"). The production of these two hormones naturally compels a person to a goal, almost like hunting for food or water.

What I find fascinating about these studies is that even if the brain doesn't produce these hormones automatically, someone can still effect their production through their own vices. Obviously, it's easier to accomplish your goals if you are, as we could now argue based on these studies, "a  naturally driven" individual. For those of us who lack this drive, it's important that we recognize the importance of our goals.

Weight loss and fitness are two different achievements. To draw a parallel from a Jewish source: King David praises the righteous who are saved from calamity in Psalm 34. He draws a distinction between withdrawing from what is destructive and committing to that which is constructive. Weight loss is about preventing the onset of diabetes, heart disease, abdominal distention, and other maladies. Fitness is a commitment to preserve and invigorate the body with activity, which stimulates the "good feeling" of the goal driven person with increases in positive hormone production.

Our bodies are receptive to setting goals and pulling ourselves out of a rut. If you need guidance in setting your goals and moving forward, email me at to talk about yourself and how to set realistic first goals.